Egypt’s top general hailed a new era of defence cooperation with Moscow yesterday during a visit by Russian officials, sending a message to Washington after it suspended some military aid.

Relations between Cairo and the United States deteriorated after the army overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. Last month, Washington announced it would withhold deliveries of some military and economic aid pending progress on democracy.

The visit to Cairo by Russia’s defence and foreign ministers was billed by both sides as historic, although the delegation from Moscow left without announcing any major agreements.

And playing down speculation of a big shift in Egyptian foreign policy, defined by close ties with Washington for more than three decades, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said Russia was not meant to be a “substitute” for anyone.

Egypt and the Soviet Union were close allies until the 1970s, when Cairo moved closer to the US, which brokered its 1979 peace deal with Israel. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s army chief and defence minister, told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, the visit indicated the continuation of “historic strategic relations via starting a new era of constructive, fruitful cooperation on the military level”, the state news agency reported. Shoigu and Sisi talked about strengthening military relations between the countries, the agency said.

“It’s meant to send a message to say Egypt has options, and that if the United States wishes to maintain its strategic alliance with Egypt, it will have to drop the conditions it attaches to the military aid,” said Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Washington has said it would consider resuming some suspended aid depending on Egypt’s progress in following the interim government’s plans to hold elections – a plan the government says it is committed to.

Seeking to mend fences with Egypt, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed guarded optimism about a return to democracy during a November 3 visit to Cairo.

Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din, who visited Washington last week, said there had been “a change of understanding” there about Egypt – remarks suggesting US officials are now more sympathetic to the Cairo government’s view of events around the elected Islamist president’s ouster.

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