Relations with Egypt are a 'priority for Russia': Russian FM

Ahram Online, Wednesday 13 Nov 2013

In an interview with Al-Ahram's correspondent in Moscow, Samy Omara, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says he is optimistic about Egypt's future

Sergei Lavrov
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at UN Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on 30 June (Photo: Reuters)

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Al-Ahram daily newspaper on Wednesday that the ongoing events in Egypt, along with other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, reflect growing popular ambitions for social, political and economic change.

He stated that Russia had, for two and a half years, expressed its support for democratic transformation in Egypt and for the creation of more effective socio-economic systems.  

Lavrov pointed out that Egypt needs a comprehensive national dialogue that encompasses all social sects, calling for the avoidance of violence, in order to pave the way for the adoption of effective programmes and policies at all levels.

"We are quite confident that Egypt will overcome its current crises and put into consideration the interests of all political, ethnic and religious blocs within society," he said.

A series of high-level military and diplomatic meetings between Cairo and Moscow are planned to take place in Egypt this week, in what some have described as a new phase in relations between the two states, marked by closer cooperation.


The minister said that his country cannot prevent its nationals from visiting Egypt, a situation that he justified by referring to the constitution which guarantees the right to free movement for all Russians. He hoped that mutual cooperation between Egypt and Russia would develop in regards to tourism.

However, he cited the legal authority of the Russian government to "take all necessary arrangements" to ensure the safety of Russian tourists in parts of the world experiencing instability.

In August, Russia's foreign ministry urged tourists to avoid trips to Egypt because of ongoing violence.

"Clashes and unrest that began in the capital are quickly spreading to other cities and regions of Egypt, including those favoured by tourists," ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

"In these circumstances, the Russian foreign ministry recommends that Russian tourists refrain from visiting Egypt," the spokesman said.

Egypt's Red Sea resorts are popular among Russian tourists, in part because tourist visas there can be purchased on arrival.

Egyptian tourism minister Hisham Zaazou has been touring the world to persuade officials to remove travel warnings imposed on Egypt, most recently visiting Germany, France and Russia. The latter sent security experts to Egypt's Red Sea governorate to verify its safety.

"Russia's travel warning on Egypt is expected to be lifted soon," tourism ministry spokesperson Rasha El-Azazi told Ahram Online.

Political ties

When asked about the pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin that have been seen at some protests in Cairo, Lavrov said that Russian-Egyptian partnership is strong and "has passed all historical tests."

"Russia will soon celebrate seventy years of diplomatic relations with Egypt. During this period, we have made considerable progress in bilateral cooperation in regards to energy, agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure," he said.

"Levels of Russian-Egyptian trade have significantly risen in the last few years despite the global financial crisis."

Lavrov also said that thousands of Russians are living in Egypt, whether for business or education purposes, and vice versa.

Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy told AFP on Saturday that Egypt will expand cooperation with Russia in the wake of a diplomatic spat with long-time ally the United States following president Mohamed Morsi's overthrow.

Fahmy's statements came ahead of a visit by Russia's defence and foreign ministers to discuss arms sales and political relations.

"Independence is having choices. So the objective of this foreign policy is to provide Egypt with choices, more choices. So I'm not going to substitute. I'm going to add," Fahmy said.

Egypt had close ties with Russia until several years before ex-president Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979, bringing in roughly $1.3 billion in yearly US military aid over the subsequent decades.

Defence cooperation

According to Russian RIA Novosti news agency, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu and Lavrov will meet with their counterparts in Egypt during a two-day visit on Wednesday and Thursday.

Lavrov said that those visits confirm that Egyptian relations are a priority for Russia, especially as those visits are the first such meetings in four decades.

Lavrov expected that the coming meetings with Egyptian officials will tackle the issue of militant activities in Sinai.

"Most victims of these attacks are civilians. The attacks are executed by terrorist movements in the Arab world affiliated with Al-Qaeda; they attempt to benefit from problems such as public chaos and the weakness of state institutions, to commit illegal acts such as drug and human trafficking, and weapon smuggling," Lavrov said.

"In these cases we are ready to cooperate with our Egyptian partners, and condemn terrorism in all its forms."

Egypt's Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said earlier that Cairo may look to Moscow for weapons after having some its military aid suspended by Washington.

Varyag, a Russian missile cruiser that arrived in Alexandria on Monday, was received by gun salutes and naval officials as part of a traditional welcome ceremony. The warship is scheduled to remain at the Mediterranean port for five days.


Lavrov claimed that the three-year civil war in Syria can only be solved with political and diplomatic means through direct negotiations between the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad and opposition.

He said that Russia is collaborating with the US and UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in order to finalise the required preparations for the so-called "Geneva 2" conference to decide the future of the war-torn state.

"We understand the Egyptian leadership's point of view, which calls for holding the conference as soon as possible, and Russia is ready to reach a political settlement to the crisis," Lavrov said.

Under the Russian-American proposal, Syria agreed in September to destroy its entire chemical weapons programme by mid-2014. The deal averted missile strikes threatened by Washington following a 21 August sarin gas attack in the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has raised about 10 million Euros ($13.5 million) to inspect Syrian chemical arms sites under a US-Russian agreement reached in September. But it needs more funds to destroy more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons declared by Syria.

Russia may donate $2 million towards eliminating Syria's chemical weapons and is ready to offer expert help to the body tasked with the mission, a senior official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Lavrov added that Moscow and Washington are working "side-by-side" to hold a conference about creating a Middle East region free of weapons of mass destruction.

"When it comes to nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Russia's position is clearly known," he said, in response to a question concerning the Israel's refusal to sign the treaty.

He described the treaty as the "cornerstone of international peace and security."

"We always prefer to internationalise the issue, and Israel should be part of it," Lavrov concluded.   

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