Egyptian-Russian relations gain momentum

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 16 Dec 2021

Egyptian-Russian military, nuclear, and business relations prospered greatly in 2021.

Bridge of Friendship drills
Bridge of Friendship drills

The Egyptian and Russian navies concluded joint Bridge of Friendship drills on Saturday 11 December.

A statement by the Egyptian army said the joint training came “as part of the distinguished relations between Egypt and Russia, with the aim of enhancing cooperation and exchanging experiences between the armed forces of both countries”.

The statement said the training started with a reception ceremony for the Russian forces participating in the drills which were conducted at the Alexandria naval base of Ras Al-Tin. A number of naval units, frigates, rocket launchers, auxiliary supply ships and divisions of the special navy forces from both sides took part in the drill, according to the statement.  

The final stage of the drill was attended by commander of the Egyptian Naval Forces Vice Admiral Ahmed Khaled, Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet Vice Admiral Arkady Romanov, the Russian ambassador in Cairo, and military commanders from the two countries.

The joint military drills between Egypt and Russia were not the first. The two countries kicked off their first Bridge of Friendship naval drill in 2015. Since then there have been joint military exercises between the armies of the two countries every year. In 2021 the two armies conducted two military exercises, the first — the Protectors of Friendship 5 — was in October. The second, the Bridge of Friendship, was between the navies of Egypt and Russia last week.

General Mohamed Zaki, Egypt’s commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence and Military Production, and his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu signed a cooperation protocol that took Egyptian-Russian military relations to new heights. Zaki said “Egypt wishes to take military cooperation with Russia to a new level, and the progress in our military cooperation achieved over a short period of time confirms that we are on the right track. We greatly desire to continue boosting military cooperation between our two countries in all directions, and in the spirit of mutual trust between us.”

Shoygu said the growing military relations between Moscow and Cairo reflect the strong friendship and the mutual trust between the leaders of the two countries Vladimir Putin and Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. He said the cooperation protocol means stronger military bonds between Egypt and Russia in military exercises and modern armaments.

Presidents Putin and Al-Sisi talked by phone a month ago in which they discussed means of boosting Egyptian-Russian military, economic, business, industrial and energy cooperation.

Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi said the two presidents tackled the importance of military relations between their countries, as well as the latest developments regarding the Dabaa nuclear power plant, Egypt’s first nuclear plant, near Marsa Matrouh, east of Alexandria.

The plant, which is being implemented by the Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom under an agreement signed between Egypt and Russia in 2015, is expected to begin producing power in 2028.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said the Dabaa project reflects the current strong and strategic relations between Egypt and Russia. “Egypt and Russia now have strategic relations and these reflect the political coordination between the two countries at the highest levels,” Madbouli said.

Madbouli’s statement came on the heels of the Egyptian-Russian Nuclear Forum which concluded on 7 December. Madbouli said “Russia has always been a reliable partner to Egypt. When the Soviet Union was there, Russia helped Egypt build its first nuclear reactor in Anshas in the 1960s,” adding that “it seems that history repeats itself as Egypt’s political leadership decided to choose Russia again to take charge of building the country’s new national project — Dabaa nuclear plant — the first of its kind for generating electric power.”

Madbouli said nuclear power is a major source of clean energy that is free from carbon emissions which cause pollution on a wide scale. “It is part of our long-term development plan to resort to nuclear power and other clean energy sources, and we believe that Russia is the best partner in this respect because of its high experience and skill in this field,” Madbouli said.

Anatoly Kovtunov, the director of the construction of Dabaa, confirmed that work on the plant is progressing. “Despite the coronavirus pandemic, work on Dabaa has never stopped, and the plant’s first reactor will go into operation in 2028 as scheduled.”

Grigory Sonsnin, director-general of the Dabaa nuclear plant project, indicated that “the four nuclear reactors which form Dabaa plant will be of the third generation, considered the latest, best, and safest in the world and in line with the most up-to-date international standards.”

Sonsnin said the Dabaa will be the cornerstone of strategic relations between Egypt and Russia for many years to come. “This project, which aims to improve the standards of living in Egypt, will be as historical as the High Dam which Russia helped Egypt build in the 1960s,” Sonsnin said.

Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker said the Dabaa project will take Egyptian-Russian relations “to new heights, and that it will mean a lot for development in Egypt as not only will it reinforce the country’s clean energy potential but will contribute to improving the level of Egyptian industry.”

Shaker said the objective of the Egyptian-Russian Nuclear Forum was to review progress in implementing the Dabaa. “There is close coordination between Egypt’s Authority of Nuclear Power Stations and the Rosatom corporation to remove obstacles that might stand in the way of implementing the national project of the Dabaa,” Shaker said.

Kovtunov said the Dabaa currently provides jobs to 1,000 workers — Egyptians and Russians — and that by the end of 2022, the total number of workers at the plant will reach 5,000, and that by 2028 the project will generate 30,000 job opportunities, 70 per cent of whom are Egyptians.

The phone call between Al-Sisi and Putin last month also saw the two leaders exchanging views on the latest developments concerning the establishment of the Russian industrial zone in eastern Port Said.

In July, Russian authorities and Egypt’s Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone) signed a preliminary agreement to expand the Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal.

The Russian zone, under the agreement, will be extended to eastern Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of five million square metres.

Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Vasily Osmakov said at a Russian trade forum this week that Russia will start financing the construction of its Russian Zone (RIZ) next year. “Construction was originally expected to begin in 2020 but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. But we are serious that construction will begin in 2022.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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