By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday wished Egypt's military chief victory in the nation's presidential vote as Moscow sought to expand its military and other ties with a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Putin said at the start of his meeting with Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that he's aware of his intention to seek the presidency.
"I know that you have made a decision to run for president," Putin said, according to Russian news reports. "That's a very responsible decision: to undertake such a mission for the fate of the Egyptian people. On my own part, and on behalf of the Russian people I wish you success."
El-Sissi, who rose to prominence after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last July, is popular among a large segment of Egyptians and is widely expected to announce a candidacy for presidential elections that are likely due in late April.
El-Sissi's visit to Moscow, his first trip abroad since Morsi's ouster, comes amid reports of a $2 billion arms deal with Russia to be funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of Egypt's shift to reduce reliance on the United States.
The visit also marks an attempt by Moscow to expand its influence in Egypt at a time when Egyptian-U.S. relations have soured in the aftermath of Morsi's ouster. The United States has been Cairo's chief foreign backer and benefactor since the 1970s, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke with Moscow after decades of close political and military ties and expelled Soviet military advisers.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy, that Russia and Egypt agreed to "speed up the preparation of documents that would give an additional impulse to our military and military-technical cooperation."
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who met separately with el-Sissi, said that the need to strengthen military cooperation between Russia and Egypt stems from "common challenges and threats," but mainly terrorism.
Shoigu said he and el-Sissi discussed possibilities for joint military exercises and training Egyptian officers in Russian military academies. "We also discussed the ways of expanding cooperation between our air forces and navies," Shoigu said.
Neither Lavrov nor Shoigu mentioned any specifics related to weapons sales, but Russian media reported last fall that Egypt was interested in acquiring Russian air defense missiles, MiG-29 fighter jets, helicopters and other weapons.
The visit comes nearly three months after Lavrov and Shoigu visited Cairo, the fact that Fahmy said reflects both countries' interest in expanding their cooperation.
"Naturally, we discussed bilateral relations and there is an interest in developing economic ties through a bilateral committee next month that will have specific proposals working toward the interest of both nations," Fahmy said.
Associated Press writers Hamza Hendawi in Cairo and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.