Never one for subtlety, Vladimir Putin, seeking new markets for Russian weapons exports, today gave Egyptian President Abel-Fatah al-Sisi an unusual gift: A Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Sisi should probably feel honored by the present, which puts him in good company. Putin recently gave China’s Xi Jinping a Russian-made smartphone—I would assume he’s not using it for any sensitive calls—and Barack Obama got some nice plates and teacups before his relationship with Vladimir went sour.
Sisi rolled out the red carpet for Putin’s visit, with posters of the Russian leader hanging throughout Cairo. In addition to the business being conducted—the two leaders are discussing arms sales and events in the Middle East—the trip is symbolically important for both leaders. For Sisi, it’s a demonstration that he can conduct foreign policy independently of the United States. Putin, meanwhile, wants to show that he’s not entirely isolated by the U.S. and European backlash over the war in Ukraine.
The hardy and simple AK-47 is one of the world’s most ubiquitous weapons and one of Russia’s most successful exports, though it’s designer and namesake, Mikhail Kalashnikov, reportedly felt guilty before his death in 2013 over the millions of deaths caused by his creation. It’s tempting to wonder if the gift is a rebuke to Obama, who dismissed Russia last year as a fading power that “doesn’t make anything.” It sure does make one thing.