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Moscow eagerly endorses al-Sisi bid

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 8:18 p.m.

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday wished Egypt's military chief victory in the nation's presidential vote, even though he has yet to announce his bid — a strong endorsement signaling Moscow's desire to expand its military and other ties with a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Putin appeared to be capitalizing on a growing move by gulf nations — particularly Saudi Arabia — to move the Middle East off its traditional reliance on the United States.

Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi's visit to Moscow comes amid reports of a $2 billion Egyptian 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 United States' influence is steadily waning in the region for several years,” said Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political analyst at Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Traditional allies like the Saudis are becoming more and more suspicious, and U.S. credibility in the region is at stake.

Without naming the United States, the Kremlin criticized what it regards as U.S. interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Russia's ties with the United States have been badly strained by disputes ranging from Syria's civil war, to missile defense plans in Europe, to Moscow's human rights record.

“I know that you have made a decision to run for president,” Putin said at the start of his meeting with al-Sisi. “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.”

Al-Sisi didn't mention presidential ambitions in brief opening remarks, but emphasized his focus on ensuring security, saying that the country's military is capable of providing it.

The 59-year old al-Sisi 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.

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