“Thanks, Putin!” This might sound like the Russian version of the “Thanks, Obama” joke that is popular here in the U.S., but this is altogether different. The two words were seen on one of dozens of signs being held by Egyptians along the streets of Cairo on November 14, 2014. On that day, Russian officials from the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs were in Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials to discuss what Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu called “military technical assistance,” a term not used between the two countries since the late ’70s.

The visit and discussions, which resulted in an arms sales worth upwards of $3.5 billion, came on the heels of a mid-October announcement by the U.S. government that it was suspending $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. The suspension is believed to be in reaction to the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as alleged human rights violations. Egypt’s overtures to Russia are a clear protest against the sanctions. Some experts have labeled the move as nothing more than an “irritant” to the U.S., but does it warrant closer scrutiny? Could this be the first of many moves by Russian President Putin to reestablish influence in the Middle East?

Russia and the Middle East have a long and tumultuous history. After World War II, the Soviet Union’s main reason for getting involved in the region was to disrupt U.S. influence. During that period, the Soviet Union shared a border with pro-U.S. nations like Turkey and Iran, and this made the USSR more than a bit uncomfortable. Interestingly, and representative of the current situation, at various times, the Soviet Union provided assistance to then-NATO member Turkey, and even pursued better relations with Israel. Also during the late 1980s, the massive Soviet Black Fleet took up station in the Persian Gulf to protect Kuwaiti-flagged ships against Iranian attacks. And of course they maintained ties with terror-sponsor states such as Libya, Syria, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

During the Middle East conflicts of the 1960s and ’70s, the Soviet Union firmly backed states like Egypt, Syria, and others against their main enemy, Israel. The so-called War of Attrition saw widespread use of Soviet pilots openly flying combat sorties against Israel (who, by the way, drew the Soviets into a planned air battle, codenamed Operation Rimon 20, which ended with the downing of five Soviet aircraft, with four pilots killed.)