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New best friends: Putin in Cairo and Ankara as Washington loses Middle East influence Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

New best friends: Putin in Cairo and Ankara as Washington loses Middle East influence

Putin last visited Egypt in 2015 amid much fanfare [Getty/TNA composite]

Date of publication: 11 December, 2017

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin will begin a historic visit to Egypt and Turkey on Monday, two leading Sunni Muslim powers that have had complex relations with a growingly assertive Moscow.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin will begin a historic visit to Egypt and Turkey on Monday, two leading Sunni Muslim powers that have had complex relations with a growingly assertive Moscow.

Putin is scheduled to hold talks with his fellow Egyptian and Turkish strongmen. One, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a close ally the other, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a one-time rival who now counts as one of Putin's friends. 

Putin's visit comes against the backdrop of ongoing crises in Syria and Palestine, two countries where Moscow, Cairo and Istanbul carry varying degrees of influence.

The ever growing scale of Russia's influence in the Middle East is in sharp contrast to the receding US role in the region.

The visit will also focus in equal measure on growing collaboration, including in the nuclear and military spheres.

The Kremlin said on 7 December that Putin and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will discuss stability and security in the Middle East, which has been rocked by the US move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. 

In Turkey, Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plan to discuss bilateral issues, including joint energy projects, as well as the conflict in Syria and the broader situation in the Middle East, the Kremlin said.


A new page with Egypt

Egypt will sign contracts with Moscow during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Cairo on Monday for the country's first nuclear power plant, three senior sources told Reuters on Sunday.

The construction of the 4,800 megawatt (MW) capacity plant, which is supposed to be built at Dabaa in the north of the country, is expected to be completed within seven years, added the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry told Russia Today in an interview on Saturday that "they have completed several stages" of the plant and "soon" it will be finished.

Moscow and Cairo signed an agreement in 2015 for Russia to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt.

Russia extended a loan to Egypt to cover the cost of construction.

Egypt's official gazette said last year the loan was worth $25 billion and would finance 85 percent of the value of each work contract, services and equipment shipping. Egypt would fund the remaining 15 percent.

The trial operation of the first nuclear reactor is expected to take place in 2022.

Putin last visited Egypt in February 2015, and Sisi met with him in Moscow six months later.

The two authoritarian leaders, who both share an anti-Islamist agenda and a widely condemned human rights record against dissidents, have had warm relations.

It is not clear whether the leaders will discuss resuming flights, however. Russia suspended commercial flights to Egypt after a Russian passenger plane blew up over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board, most of whom Russian citizens.

An affiliate of the extremist group Islamic State group based in the Sinai claimed responsibility.

Russian and Egyptian officials have since held talks on boosting airport security and resuming air travel, but no deal has been reached yet.

Putin's visit to Cairo comes less than two weeks after the Russian government announced that Moscow and Cairo had drafted an agreement to allow each country's military to use the other's air bases.

Cementing Erdogan's friendship

Russia and Turkey continue to back opposing sides in the Syria war and their relations were severely strained after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015.

But since a failed coup attempt in Turkey, Putin has voiced his support for Erdogan and courted closer relations with the NATO member. The two countries have since cooperated closely on establishing de-escalation zones in Syria.

Moscow and Ankara are also working to build the TurkStream gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey, and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is being built in Turkey with Russian collaboration.

Reuters cited unnamed sources close to Erdogan as saying the talks would address developments in Jerusalem - a reference to the tensions and unrest following US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Egypt, Turkey, and Russia have all denounced Trump's decision. Putin and Erdogan voiced "serious concern" about it in a phone conversation on 7 December, the Kremlin said.

Ankara is hosting a pan-Islamic summit on Wednesday to study further actions on Jerusalem, as tensions between the Islamic world and the United States continue to flare up over the holy city annexed by Israel a move now endorsed by Washington in violation of international consensus.

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