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It said Egypt has shown interest in purchasing Russian air defense missile systems and MiG-29 fighter jets, combat helicopters and other weapons. But it quoted an unnamed official dealing with arms trade as saying that no big deals are expected in the near future as Egypt currently can’t afford it.

However, a retired Egyptian military general who maintains close ties to the present army leadership said Egypt was inching close to signing a $2 billion deal with Russia for the purchase of 24 MiG fighter-jets as well as anti-tank missiles and an air- defense system.

“Do you want us to take the (U.S.) slap on our face and remain silent? Of course not,” said the retired general, Talaat Musalem. “This pressure is not acceptable, so we returned to the Russians to maintain our fighting capabilities.”

The Russian defense minister vowed to develop military ties and increase bilateral contacts between the two countries, saying “I expect to continue a constructive dialogue on the entire spectrum of military and military-technical issues.”

He said their discussions also covered fighting terrorism and future joint exercises.

It was the highest level Russian visit to Egypt since former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a partnership deal with then-President Hosni Mubarak in 2009.

It is difficult to see Russia, at least in the short term, replacing the United States as Egypt’s chief backer.

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient — after Israel — of U.S. bilateral foreign assistance, largely as a way to sustain the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty. Washington’s froze a large chunk of about $1.5 billion in annual aid, mostly for the military, last month.

“Theoretically speaking, there’s no polarization and no need to pick and choose between the U.S. and Russia,” said Russian affairs specialist Farrag Aboul-Nour. “But practically, freezing U.S. aid was a dangerous alarm … The message to the U.S. today is: Egypt cannot remain a hostage to the U.S. forever.”

Russia’s cause in Egypt will likely be helped by growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Egypt, chiefly over Washington’s perceived bias in favor of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group and decades of what many Egyptians see as their country’s submission to Washington’s will under Mubarak, who himself was toppled in a 2011 revolution.

Russia and Egypt’s new government share a common enemy in Islamists, with Moscow facing Islamist insurgencies in some of its outlying regions.

Earlier this week, a 21-gun salute and a band played military music to welcome a Russian missile cruiser, the Varyag, when it docked in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria. A military official speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations said the cruiser will be in Alexandria for six days. Another Russian warship, the Boris Butoma, is now docked in a Red Sea port.

Egypt was Moscow’s closest Arab ally for two decades, starting in the 1950s when the Soviet Union threw its weights behind the late nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser in his ambitious drive to modernize the Arab nation and create a well-armed military at the height of the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But in 1972, then-President Anwar Sadat threw out thousands of Soviet military advisers and realigned the country’s foreign policy, taking his nation closer to the United States soon after the 1973 Mideast war.

Egypt’s relations with the Soviet Union took a marked turn for the worse after Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 where Egypt was among the countries sending Arab fighters to join war against Soviets. Relations have steadily improved in recent years, with nearly 2 million Russians vacationing in Egypt every year.

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