For a man who has run afoul of the United States and Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin sure does get around.
In the past few months, Putin has popped up in far-flung ports from New Delhi to Nicaragua. On state visits, Putin has signed nuclear deals with both Argentina and India, the latter of which has maintained a noteworthy neutrality on Russia's recent exploits in Ukraine. Putin has hung out with the Castros in Cuba, announced a gas pipeline in Ankara, and caused a scene in Beijing when a chivalrous gesture involving China's first lady begot ShawlGate in November. (Putin also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the tenth time in less than two years.)
A cursory glance at his travel schedule shows that the Russian premier made nearly 20 official state visits in 2014, a trying diplomatic year for Russia by all accounts. Compare that to just six official visits in 2013.
On Monday, Putin was seen at the Cairo airport giving a kalashnikov to a giddy Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president, to mark the first Russian state visit to Egypt since 2005. On Tuesday, as CNN reported, the two men signed a pact "to cooperate on building a nuclear power plant."
“He’s making a show of highlighting how he’s not isolated,” one Russia expert told The Guardian. “It’s also a way of undermining the U.S., since Cairo is piece of America’s imperium."
Putin's showboating in Egypt comes just hours before he heads to Minsk, Belarus, where he will meet with the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, and France for truce talks over the ongoing violence in Ukraine. In recent weeks, the death toll in eastern Ukraine has surged as the crisis nears its one-year mark, prompting the White House to publicly consider sending arms to Ukraine. (On Tuesday, Alexei Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker and Putin confidant, told members of the European parliament that such a move could lead to "all-out war.")
Arming Ukraine would seem to represent a course shift that implicitly rebukes the American-led sanctions against Russia, which have crippled the Russian economy, but haven't deterred it from supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. While the meetings in Minsk may prove otherwise if Russia relents, as Putin's travels show, isolating him is not an easy feat.