Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering paying a state visit to Egypt to take advantage of frayed ties between Washington and Cairo and possibly gain access to Mediterranean ports, the Sunday Times of London reported.
The United States announced on October 9 that it had decided to “hold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the Egyptian government pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”
The US move came days after 57 people died in clashes amid the crackdown by Security Forces on supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
Putin is seeking to resume military ties with Egypt in light of the vacuum created by Washington’s decision and fears of a return to the Cold War era rivalry in the region, the Sunday Times reported.
Among Russia’s motivations, the newspaper suggests, is access to Egypt’s Mediterranean ports. Russia’s only base in the Mediterranean, the Syrian port of Tartus, could be lost if ally President Bashar Assad’s is driven from power.
“Tartus is vulnerable and not good enough and the Egyptian ports are perfect for the Russian navy,” the British paper quoted an Israeli defense source as saying.
Putin is also seeking to fill the void left by the US withdrawal from Iraq and strained ties between Washington and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunday Times reported.
“The US is in retreat all over the Middle East: Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And the Russians are stepping in and intend to stay,” the paper quoted the Israeli security source as saying.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department on Monday hinted at trip to Egypt that could be in the coming weeks. If taken, the visit would be the first since the U.S. announced the stemming of military aid to Egypt early this month.
“I think we may be going to Cairo sometime in the next weeks. And one of the meetings that I insisted on having was that we make sure we meet with a cross-section of civil society,” Kerry said.