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Russia looks to fill Mideast void left by US

AFP/Staff | AFP/Getty Images

What a difference a few months make.

In September, with a U.S.-led attack on Russia's last remaining regional ally imminent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pulled off a last-minute deal that kept the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria in power in exchange for a release of chemical weapons. Now with the U.S. focused on rapprochement with Iran, Russia is looking to step up ties with other regional powers, including Egypt.

As a GCC-backed investment conference gets under way on Wednesday in Cairo, the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, will get top billing alongside many of the Gulf's most influential business leaders.

(Read more: Gulf states, minus Qatar, rally Egypt investment to buoy army power)

The conference is aimed at inducing the Gulf's private sector to pony up investment in an economy already plagued by unemployment, inflation and a chronic lack of foreign direct investment.

It's worth noting that Cairo was the scene of another such conference just over 90 years ago, one that saw Western powers carve up the map of the modern Middle East. Today, as the U.S. up ends decades-old alliances with the oil-rich Gulf states in pursuit of a dialogue with Iran, it's falling to the GCC to take on the burden of economic engagement in countries hit by the Arab Spring. And despite their wealth, it's a task these countries are loath to take on alone.

With Gulf governments committed to more than $12 billion of aid in support of the military-backed regime, Russia's growing interest in Egypt appears to have full GCC approval.

(Read more: Egypt agrees topay $1.5 bln arrears to foreign oil firms)

In a November visit to Cairo, Russia's Foreign Minister offered to invest in everything from nuclear energy to tourism; billions of dollars in weapons sales were also reportedly on the table. The visit followed rapidly on the heels of a U.S. decision to suspend military and financial aid to Egypt.

It's just one in a series of U.S. foreign policy decisions that have left America's traditional allies in the region feeling at once confused and isolated. The Obama administration's decision to forego strikes in Syria in order to pursue the removal of chemical weapon, their secretive dialogue with Tehran and even the administrations nominal support of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi weigh heavily on U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

And so, as Gulf governments look to shore-up friendly Arab governments like Egypt, Russia is looking to fill the void left by an increasingly distracted United States.

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