Egyptian-Russian relations: Seventy-five years on

Reem Leila , Wednesday 17 Oct 2018

Economic and political cooperation was high on the agenda of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Vladimir Putin’s meeting this week

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi shake hands during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 17, 2018 REUTERS

Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi during a busy three-day official visit, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi discussed economic cooperation and the implementation of joint projects as well as ways to build on the two countries’ growing military cooperation.

During the visit, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of relations being established between Egypt and the Soviet Union, Putin issued a decree approving the signing of a Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement.

On Tuesday Al-Sisi met with Tigran Sargsyan, the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC). During the meeting the president underlined the importance of reaching a free trade agreement that could contribute to doubling trade and joint investments.

The EEC is the permanent regulatory body of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a five-country grouping of Armenia, Belarus, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Russian Federation.

Sargsyan said the EAEU is keen to begin negotiations with Egypt on a free trade agreement.

Al-Sisi laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden in Moscow before heading to the Russian Federation Council (RFC), the upper house of the Russian parliament, where he became the first foreign president to address the RFC.

The president also met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and other senior Russian officials to discuss ways to bolster Russian investments in the Suez Canal Economic Zone.

In May Egypt and Russia signed a 50-year agreement to build a Russian Industrial Zone in the new Suez Canal Economic Zone.

The zone, built on an area of 5.25 million square metres at a cost of $7 billion, is at the forefront of plans to increase trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Russian investments in Egypt by the end of 2017 reached $4.6 bilion, with more than 60 per cent in the oil and gas sector.

According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, the volume of bilateral trade between January and April 2018 reached $2.163 billion, a 49 per cent increase on the same period last year.

Russian exports to Egypt increased by 50 per cent to reach $1.8 billion, while exports from Egypt recorded a 41 per cent hike to $481 million.

During the visit, officials from Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) updated Al-Sisi and Putin on progress in constructing the nuclear power plant at Dabaa on Egypt’s North Coast, which Russia is building.

Negotiations to build the plant, which will consist of four 1,200 megawatts reactors, began in 2015. In May 2016 President Al-Sisi approved an agreement under which Moscow provides a $25 billion loan to finance the construction of the seven-year project, to be paid off over 35 years.

Al-Sisi’s meeting with Putin included a follow-up on project specifications and discussions of the timetable for the construction of the nuclear plant.

Tourism was also discussed. Russian tourists made up 30 per cent of all incoming visitors to Egypt before the downing of a Russian flight above the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in October 2015.

Following the tragedy Russia imposed a ban on all flights to Egypt. Earlier this summer the ban on flights to Cairo was finally lifted, though it remains in place on flights to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada.

Earlier this week, in a column penned for the daily Al-Ahram, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was eager to work with Egypt to boost airline security.

“It is important to continue joint efforts that support the safety of both countries’ citizens,” Lavrov wrote.

“Strengthening ties with Russia does not mean Egypt is neglecting its western allies,” says Mohamed Fayez of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “Egypt’s new policy is to balance its relations with the east and the west.”

Moscow and Cairo share a number of common goals, says Fayez, not least in Syria where “Egypt’s stance is similar to that of Russia, with both countries determined to preserve the integrity of the Syrian state.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Seventy-five years on

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