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Putin meets Sisi as Russia seeks to boost Egypt ties

 Russia`s President Vladimir Putin held talks with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Tuesday, as Moscow seeks to boost ties with a key Arab country whose alliance with Washington has frayed.

Cairo: Russia`s President Vladimir Putin held talks with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Tuesday, as Moscow seeks to boost ties with a key Arab country whose alliance with Washington has frayed.

Putin is a key non-Arab backer of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has faced US criticism for his deadly crackdown on opponents since he ousted Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Putin`s first victim in a decade to Cairo, where he arrived on Monday, also follows a 2011 uprising that toppled ex-strongman Hosni Mubarak, whom the Russian leader met on his previous trip in 2005.

Experts say Putin`s visit is also aimed at showing that he is not isolated internationally, despite the crisis in Ukraine.

After brief talks at the airport, the two leaders attended a concert at the Opera House before dining in the capital`s landmark Cairo Tower.

On Tuesday, they held formal talks at a presidential palace.

Received with a guard of honour and a 21-gun salute, posters of the Russian leader were plastered on Cairo`s main roads greeting him in Russia, Arabic and English.

Officials said the two leaders were expected to sign a host of agreements, including in the field of nuclear energy.

"The leaders will pay special attention to ramping up trade and economic ties between the two countries," the Kremlin said ahead of the visit.

Russia hosted Sisi`s predecessor Morsi during his one-year presidency, despite having banned the Islamist`s Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist group" in 2003.

But Moscow was also one of the first countries to endorse Sisi`s presidency last year.

Sisi visited Russia when he was defence minister soon after ousting Morsi amid deteriorating relations with Washington, and he followed it up with a August 2014 trip as president.

At their meeting last summer at Putin`s summer residence in Sochi, the two discussed Russia supplying weapons to Egypt, which is fighting an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed scores of policemen and soldiers.

Moscow has sought to secure a larger slice of the Egyptian arms market after Washington suspended some weapons deliveries in the immediate aftermath of Sisi`s crackdown on Morsi supporters.

At the time, Russian media said the two sides were close to signing a $3-billion (then 2.2 billion euro) deal for Moscow to supply missiles and warplanes, including MiG-29 fighters and attack helicopters.

However, Washington has since resumed its annual $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, also delivering Apache helicopter gunships to fight jihadists in Sinai.

Ties still remain cooler than before Morsi`s ouster, with Washington criticising Sisi`s regime for repressing Islamist as well as secular dissent.Washington also regularly criticises the Egyptian judiciary for handing down lengthy prison sentences to Morsi supporters, and also secular activists, after often speedy trials.

"Putin continues to take advantage of ambiguity and contradictions in Western policies toward the Middle East," said Anna Borshchevskaya of The Washington Institute For Near East Policy.

As long as Washington criticises "Egypt`s democratic backslide... it keeps open the door for Putin... to gain influence in Egypt at the expense of US interests," said the expert on Russian policy in the Middle East.

From Zee News

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