Egypt and Russia celebrated 80 years of diplomatic relations this week, with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi phoning his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on 9 March to exchange congratulations.
According to Presidential Spokesman Ahmed Fahmi, the two presidents praised the historic relations between the two countries. “They stressed the necessity of reinforcing these relations at all levels and confirmed their commitment to advancing them in the coming period,” Fahmi said.
He said the two presidents had discussed the latest regional and international developments, stressing the importance of reinforcing stability in the Middle East and resolving current crises in the region in a way that should safeguard the interests of the region’s peoples.
“The two presidents also discussed ways to overcome current global crises, particularly the food crisis,” Fahmi said, adding that “in this respect they reaffirmed the importance of enhancing food security, particularly in Africa where countries have been the most affected by crises.”
Marat Gatin, director of the Russian Cultural Centre and Counsellor of the Russian Embassy in Cairo, told Egyptian TV channel Al-Masriya on 12 March that diplomatic relations between Russia and Egypt were established in 1943.
“Under the regime of president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s, the relations between the two countries flourished, particularly in the economic and military fields,” Gatin said, adding that “under late president Anwar Al-Sadat, however, the relationship went sour as he started re-orienting the country towards the West.
“Relations between the two countries were re-established under late president Hosni Mubarak in 1984, and after the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office in 2013 and under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who came to power in 2014 both countries have since worked closely to strengthen military and trade ties.”
Analysts agree that despite the Russia-Ukraine war and the western sanctions on Moscow, joint projects and economic cooperation between Egypt and Russia continue uninterrupted.
Nader Noureddin, an economic analyst and a former advisor to the Minister of Supply and Trade, noted that two days after Al-Sisi’s call to Putin, Egypt announced that it would exit the UN Grains Trade Convention (GTC) by the end of next June.
Minister of Trade and Supply Ali Moselhi said Egypt’s exit was due to the GTC’s failure to provide Egypt with needed grain crops and wheat supplies.
However, Ali Al-Idrissi, deputy director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Strategic Studies (ECES), indicated that “while the GTC has become ineffective, Egypt has proved that it can efficiently use its diplomatic and political relations with countries like Russia and India to secure its wheat and grain needs.”
Al-Idrissi said Russia is seeking to increase its foreign trade with the Arab countries and Africa in the light of the US sanctions against it. “Egypt may become Russia’s gateway to African markets in the long run,” he said.
The Russian Embassy in Cairo said in a statement in January that Russia remained Egypt’s main wheat exporter during the second half of 2022 and that Egypt is the second-biggest importer of Russian wheat.
“Russia exported 5.4 million tons of grain in 2022,” said the embassy, adding that “this confirms the growing economic and trade relations between the two countries.”
The General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), Egypt’s state grain buyer, also announced in January that Russia would continue to be its main source of imported wheat in 2023. The Russian Grain Union announced earlier this month that it intends to export four million tons of wheat to Egypt until next August.
The Port of Damietta announced on Friday that it has received the Sabaek ship from Russia with a shipment of 100,000 tons of wheat for the GASC.
Some believe that Egypt’s decision to exit the GTC was because it wants to stop paying the dollar-denominated membership fees and because it will be able to buy wheat from Russia in rubles.
Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Viktoria Abramchenko told the media in January that Turkey has paid for Russian wheat in rubles and that Russia will do a similar deal with Egypt.
Abramchenko’s statement came a few days after the Russian Central Bank added the Egyptian pound to the list of foreign currencies it uses, meaning that Egypt and Russia could trade in rubles and pounds instead of US dollars.
Andrey Sumin, a Russia-based financial markets professional, told the media last week that Russia and Egypt encountered difficulties in accessing and settling deals in dollars. “One possible solution is to exchange trade in national currencies,” he said, adding that “trading in national currencies would be much easier for local pricing and accounting.”
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said during his visit to Moscow in January that wheat imports are a cornerstone of the relationship between Cairo and Moscow and that the trade between the two countries had hit a record of $6 billion in 2022.
Meanwhile, Egypt-Russian nuclear cooperation also continues to move forward. Amgad Al-Wakil, chair of Egypt’s Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA), announced on 10 March that “the equipment for the Al-Dabaa nuclear power plant will be received in two weeks.”
“The first heavy equipment needed for the Al-Dabaa plant’s first unit will come from the city of St Petersburg, and its arrival within the next two weeks represents the most important step for the Egyptian nuclear dream to turn into a fact on the ground and marks the transition from the construction stage to the installation of equipment,” Al-Wakil said.
He noted that “the Al-Dabaa nuclear power plant is the culmination of Egyptian-Russian cooperation over the past 80 years and since the inception of diplomatic relations in 1943.”
Al-Wakil said the nuclear power plant in Al-Dabaa on Egypt’s northern coast represents the largest joint project between Egypt and Russia since the construction of the Aswan High Dam under the regime of late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the 1960s.
He told Al-Ahram on 11 March that the war in Ukraine had not hindered the progress of the Al-Dabaa project. “The implementation of the project is going according to schedule, while Rosatom, the Russian state company in charge of the construction of the Al-Dabaa nuclear plant project, is making sure that the first reactor’s heavy equipment reach the plant’s marine pier this month,” he said.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly