Putin Receives Warm Royal Welcome In Egypt
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Diplomacy between Egypt and Russia is on full view in Cairo, as in Vladimir Putin's face is on banners all over the city. The Russian president is wrapping up his first visit to Egypt in a decade. Analysts say the trip is a message from both countries to the West. NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo on Putin's royal welcome and what it means.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Putin was welcomed with a military parade including a 21-gun salute and horsemen as he approached the presidential palace this morning. A military band played the Russian anthem after he was greeted on a red carpet by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Children waved Russian flags and chanted - Sissi, Sissi, long-live Egypt. And the fanfare didn't stop there. The night before, Sissi greeted Putin at the airport, took him the opera and then to dinner at an upscale restaurant with views of the city. Putin presented a Kalashnikov rifle to Sissi as a gift and Cairo's streets are festooned with posters of Putin and Russian flags. The semiofficial state newspaper ran a glowing weekend profile of Putin headlined "The Hero Of Our Time." It featured tales of his judo and boxing skills and pictures of him shirtless carrying a weapon.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
PRESIDENT ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISSI: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: At a joint press conference, Sissi welcomed Putin and announced an agreement between the two countries to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt. Egypt had previously signed a preliminary arms deal to the tune of $3.5 billion with Russia this fall. The bid to bolster the Egypt-Russia relationship comes at a time when Egypt wants to present itself as more independent from the U.S. And tensions are soaring between Russia and the United States. Russia's struggling with the drop in oil prices and sanctions over its annexation of Crimea. Michael Wahid Hanna is an Egypt expert at the Century Foundation.
MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: Clearly, at a time when U.S.-Russian polarization is at a peak, this sends a very clear message that Egypt will choose and chart its own foreign policy course and that they're not reliant on the United States and the West.
FADEL: But he says it's more symbolic than substantive and can't replace Egypt's long-running relationship with the U.S. and the $1.5 billion dollars in aid it gives to Egypt annually.
Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.
MARTIN: Right now it's not clear whether Putin will go on from Egypt to Belarus for talks about ending the fighting in Ukraine. That meeting would be with the leaders of France and Germany. Tomorrow morning NPR's Corey Flintoff will have the latest. Listen for that on Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.