Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to speed up the delivery of billions of dollars in arms and invited Cairo to forge free trade ties with a Moscow-led customs bloc.
Speaking at a meeting between the two leaders in Sochi on Tuesday, Putin pledged to develop military and technological cooperation between the two countries.
Ties between the two countries have warmed in the past year, with Putin publicly backing Sisi’s presidential run during the latter’s earlier visit to Moscow in February.
Russia has moved to grab a bigger slice of the Egyptian arms market after the United States suspended some of its weapons deliveries in the wake of Sisi’s crackdown on supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi last year.
Cairo hosted the Russian defence and foreign ministers in November, the first such visit since the Soviet era, for discussions on an Egyptian arms purchase plan.
Moscow’s Vedemosti business daily reported after those talks that Russia and Egypt were nearing a $3bn advanced missiles and warplanes deal that would be financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The report said Moscow and Cairo had already either “initialled or signed” contracts for the purchase of Mig-29 fighters and Russian attack helicopters as well as coastal defence systems.
Putin noted that Egypt could purchase a fifth of Russia’s total wheat exports and was eager to help fill the void left by Moscow’s sanctions on US and European produce and meat, the Reuters news agency reported.
The Russian leader also invited Cairo to establish a free trade zone between Egypt and a customs union Russia has forged with ex-Soviet nations, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Closer agricultural and military trade ties between Cairo and Moscow are unlikely to play well in Washington amid the effective freeze in relations between Russia and the West brought on by the Ukraine crisis.
Putin has responded to his diplomatic isolation from the United States and its EU allies by striking a massive gas deal with China and inviting Latin American countries to sell their agricultural goods to Russia on preferential terms.