Egyptian President Reinforces Friendship with Russia
// With his son and presumed heir
Negotiations will take place in the Kremlin today between Presidents of Russia and Egypt Vladimir Putin and Hosni Mubarak. The meeting could bring numerous results. The two countries are united in their annoyance with the hegemonic role the United States plays in world politics. Moscow would like to restore at least a fraction of its former glory and Cairo thinks that Russia's return to prominence would make it the center of the superpowers' rivalry again.
Military technical cooperation forms the basis of Russian-Egyptian economic relations today. The Egyptian Army is still armed with Soviet weapons, and those need modernization. Last year, Moscow concluded several contracts with Cairo to provide Tor-M1, Buk-M1-2 Kvadrat and Silka antiaircraft missile complexes and 600 portable Igla missile systems.
Moscow is aware of Cairo's plans to refit the Egyptian Air Force for $300 million. Egypt has apparently decided to purchase Chinese Super-1 fighter jets, but Moscow intends to outdo the Chinese and convince the Egyptians to buy the more expensive but militarily superior MiG-29 by making a trade-in deal on the Soviet MiG-21 planes that Egypt plans to retire by 2010.
Russia's plans do not end there. Gazprom is counting on entering the Egyptian natural gas production sector. Local gas reserves in Egypt are estimated at 1.76 trillion cubic meters and their development offer great promise, especially if the Egypt-Jordan gas pipeline is extended to Syria and Lebanon. Finally, Mubarak announced the revival of the Egyptian atomic program, which had been on mothballs since the Chernobyl catastrophe. The Egyptian government has already made it clear that it is hoping for assistance from Russia.
One factor driving Moscow and Cairo closer is nostalgia for old times. There is an opinion circulating in the Kremlin that the Russian Federation's path to full-fledged world-power status runs through the Middle East. If Russia gains authority and influence in that turbulent and oil-rich region, it will once again be able to speak to the United States on equal terms, the theory goes. Since Egypt is the leading country of the Arab world, close political and economic ties with Cairo are a primary goal for Moscow. That is all the more so since the collapse of Soviet-Egyptian relations 30 years ago led to Moscow's exclusion from the Middle East and its regional politics.
Cairo wants to return to those bygone days as much as Russia wants to be called a superpower again. The Egyptians' logic is simple. During the Cold War, its maneuvering between the U.S. and USSR brought it huge quantities of weapons, industrial goods and other forms of aid, including cash. In the unipolar world, such beneficence is unimaginable. Washington, which took Cairo under its wing in 1979, pays Egypt about $1 billion per year. That is not enough for Cairo, but the U.S. is mentioning the possibility of cutting that sum more and more often.
Mubarak seems to be counting on Putin personally in the pursuit of his goals. The 78-year-old Egyptian leader called on Putin to remain in office for a third term before leaving for Moscow. “He knows conditions in Russia and the world well. He understands everything. Let him stay,” Mubarak beseeched. Mubarak has led his country since 1981 and will leave office in 2011. He is already grooming his 43-year-old son Gamal as his successor. Gamal Mubarak has already succeeded his father as head of the ruling National Democratic Party. Now he must be introduced on the world stage. Moscow may provide an opportunity for a test run of the future Egyptian president's PR campaign. Kommersant has obtained information that Hosni Mubarak may ask that his son be received at the Kremlin as the head of a National Democratic Party delegation. The Russian president is unlikely to refuse that request. China is also seeking the status of second world power, and Beijing is Mubarak's next stop after Moscow.