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Egyptian leader to cozy up to Putin

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:36 p.m.

CAIRO — Making a rare appearance in civilian clothes, Egypt's military chief headed to Russia on Wednesday on his first trip abroad since ousting the country's Islamist president, part of a shift to reduce reliance on the United States at a time of frictions between the longtime allies.

Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi will be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday as press reports revealed that the Kremlin has agreed to provide Egypt with more than $2 billion in military equipment under a new major arms deal.

Relations have soured with the United States, Egypt's longtime ally and military patron, over al-Sisi's removal of Mohamed Morsy, the president backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Washington suspended some of its $1.5 billion in annual aid, most of which goes to the Egyptian military.

Mustafa al-Ani, head of the UAE-based think tank Security and Defense Studies at the Gulf Research Center, said Egypt's turn to Russia was a bid to counter what he called a U.S. policy of “giving up on Egypt.”

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty insisted the Moscow visit is not intended to be “against anyone, but is to diversify partners.”

Still, it appeared to send a signal to Washington that Cairo has multiple options, while burnishing al-Sisi's reputation for being willing to stand up to the Americans. Egypt's pro-military media have been fueling public anger against the U.S., depicting Washington as a supporter of Morsy and the Brotherhood and even accusing the Americans of conspiring with the Islamists against Egyptian national security.

Egypt's chief of staff, Gen. Sedki Sobhi, said this week during a visit to the UAE that Egypt is “open in its military relations with all superpowers” and wants to diversify its arms sources “from different military schools, Eastern and Western.”

“Relations with any country are not a substitute to those with any other country,” Sobhi said.

Cairo was Moscow's closest Arab ally for two decades, starting in the 1950s under Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

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