Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly


Egypt’s leader in Moscow

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, responding to an invitation from his Russian counterpart, took part alongside other heads of states in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945.

The celebration of Victory Day, or Den’ Pobedy (“V-Day” in Russian), in what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, is an annual tradition that the Soviet Union began in 1965.

After the end of the Cold War, the Kremlin began to invite world leaders to ceremonies that take place in Moscow’s Red Square. In 1995 the 50th anniversary of the Russian victory former US president Clinton took part. On the 60th anniversary celebrations in 2005, George W Bush Jr was on hand. An invitation was sent out to President Barack Obama this year.

President Al-Sisi’s presence in this year’s ceremonies, which included a vast display of the latest weapons in the Russian arsenal, and the bilateral discussions between him and the Russian president have considerable symbolic significance in terms of Egyptian foreign policy and Egyptian-Russian relations.

This is not just because this is the first time that a Russian president has invited an Egyptian president to this grand event, but also in light of the following points.

It was an opportunity for the president to convey the well wishes of the Egyptian people to their Russian counterparts on Victory Day and their deep esteem and veneration for the immense sacrifices suffered by the Soviet people during World War II (of which an estimated total of around 27 million, both civilians and combatants, died due to the war).

The message will have an impact on ordinary Russian citizens who have long expressed their fondness of Egypt and the Egyptian people. That the president is conveying the message from the Egyptian people on this occasion is important, as the Great Patriotic War, in the Russian collective consciousness, is a truly sacred occasion that commemorates the indisputable fact that the Red Army played a pivotal role in the demise of the Third Reich.

As we all know, the liberation of Europe from the Nazi occupation in 1945 was the first step toward the establishment of a system for lasting peace in Europe, which was subsequently embodied, officially, in the Helsinki Accords of 1975 (the first act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe which now has more than 50 European members).

Second, the Egyptian presidential visit to Russia is significant in that it comes at a time of marked tensions between Moscow and Washington, together with the US’s allies in Europe and elsewhere, over the Ukrainian question in particular.

Obama and most other European leaders snubbed President Putin’s invitation. That President Al-Sisi chose to accept it is a new step toward establishing the balanced and independent approach to foreign policy strategy that Egypt has adopted since 30 June 2013.

A key tenet of this strategy is that Egypt must remain open to all power centres in the world, so as to enable Cairo to diversify its options and promote Egyptian interests without the restraints imposed by the hegemony of any one power.

A third reason why it was important that Egypt took part in the Russian Victory Day ceremonies (and should continue to take part annually) is because Egypt, too, was a theatre for military operations during the last years of World War II.

Moreover, it inherited from that war millions of landmines and other latent explosives. Western nations continue to refrain from offering Egypt effective support, beyond some modest financial and technical assistance, in order to eliminate this lurking threat for which they refuse to acknowledge responsibility.

In addition, World War II, regardless of the different readings of its causes and results, hastened the implementation of the last episode of the Zionist/Western conspiracy to establish the State of Israel and force the Arabs to pay the price for Nazi crimes in Europe.

As noted above, contrary to intensive Western participation in the 1995 and 2005 anniversary commemorations, a considerable number of heads of states from the US, the EU and some of the US’s allies outside Europe refused to take part in this year’s celebrations.

Statements released by various Western diplomatic circles claim that this was because of the Russian annexation of Crimea and ongoing Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. According to the Western perspective, this constitutes a departure from the post-Cold War order. Therefore, high-level Western attendance at the events in Red Square could be interpreted as condoning Russian behaviour in Ukraine.

Some leaders from former communist countries in eastern and central Europe, such as Poland and the three Baltic republics, add another reason. They argue that while the USSR may have driven out the Germans, it replaced the Nazi occupation with one that was equally harsh and brutal.

In all events, Western media unleashed a concerted and particularly fierce campaign against President Putin, whom they accused of distorting history and exploiting Victory Day as a propaganda tool for the current dispute in the Ukraine. Moscow claims that it is fighting neo-Nazis in Ukraine.

Putin and his foreign minister, for their part, cautioned against what they described as Western attempts to rewrite history to justify Western policies in the Ukraine and elsewhere. It is worth noting that Putin responded favourably to the French president’s invitation last year to attend the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy.

This triggered an outcry in some quarters of Western officialdom and media, which protested that the invitation of Putin was a betrayal of European values and the Ukraine, and that Europe needed strong leaders such as Thatcher and Reagan who toppled the “Empire of evil.”

Russian-German relations are more complex, given Germany’s responsibility for Nazi crimes. Therefore, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel chose a more balanced response that sought to satisfy both Moscow and Berlin’s Western allies. Although she refused to take part in the military parades on 9 May, she visited Moscow the following day and, together with Putin, laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall.

In sum, because of the Western stance towards Moscow and the economic sanctions imposed against Russia because of the Ukraine, most heads of states that responded to Putin’s invitation to attend this year’s Victory Day celebrations were from non-Western countries.

Heading the list were the emergent international power centres, including China, India and Brazil, and regional powers such as Egypt, and other pioneering countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This clearly reflects a major change that took place in Russia’s position on the international stage during the past two years, during which Moscow has begun to look eastward, not so much for allies as for partners.

It is a situation that Egypt should take advantage of, primarily by identifying areas and priorities for cooperation with Russia, in accordance with Egyptian priorities that seek to safeguard a balanced and independent foreign policy strategy based on Egyptian interests and national security requirements.

In this context, President Al-Sisi’s visit to Moscow also offered opportunities to meet with the leaders of other friendly countries, including potential partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (which includes Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) and with which Egypt is currently negotiating a project for a free trade agreement.

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