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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
Putin kicks off Middle East tour
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak in Cairo
Mr Putin (left) aims to revive Russia's influence in the region
Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun his two-day visit to Egypt - the first by any Russian or Soviet head of state in 40 years.

He met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and further talks are set to focus on the Middle East peace process.

On Wednesday, Mr Putin will also become the first Russian leader to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Russia is one of the four sponsors of the Middle East peace plan, known as the roadmap.

However, Moscow has not wielded significant power in the Middle East since the height of the Cold War, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Moscow says.

With this Middle East tour it seems President Putin is hoping to revive some of Russia's lost prestige, our correspondent says.

He adds that in Israel, President Putin is likely to face some tough questioning about Russia's support for regimes in Syria and Iran.

'Direct communications'

President Putin was received by Mr Mubarak at his Abdeen palace in central Cairo, where the two leaders held talks, followed by an official dinner.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (left) and Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser during the opening of the Aswan Dam in 1964
Nikita Khrushchev was the last Kremlin chief to visit Egypt

Further talks are scheduled on Wednesday.

"The Palestinian issue will be central during the discussions on regional Middle East issues," Egyptian presidential spokesman Sulieman Awad told reporters.

Mr Putin also wants to bolster Russia's political and economic relations with Egypt.

The two countries enjoyed close ties until the 1970s when Egypt turned to the US which has since become its most strategic foreign partner, analysts say.

"We must start direct communications with Arab countries, starting with Egypt," Mr Putin said in an interview published in Egypt's al-Ahram newspaper on Monday.

Israel's objections

After Egypt, President Putin will go on a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He is scheduled to hold talks both with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Israel and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Moscow's relations with the Jewish state have improved enormously since the days of the Soviet Union, the BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says.

She says the two countries co-operate on anti-terrorism and there is a huge community of Russian Jewish emigres in Israel.

But Israel is likely to make strong objections to Russia's support for Iran's nuclear programme and Russia's sale of air defence missiles to Syria, both nations accused of sponsoring terrorism, our correspondents say.

President Putin has already risked Israeli ire by saying Russia will continue to aid Iran as he believes its nuclear programme is peaceful.

He also said that missile sales to Syria would not threaten Israel, but would simply "complicate low-flying flights over the residence of the Syrian president", something Israeli air force jets did in 2003.

Putin to make first Israel visit
23 Mar 05 |  Middle East
Country profile: Russia
28 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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