Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Russian flights back to Cairo soon?

Egypt and Russia say progress has been made on lifting the Russian ban on passenger flights to Egypt, Doaa El-Bey reports


Shoukri during his meeting with the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid in Tallinn on Tuesday   (photo: Foreign Affairs)
Shoukri during his meeting with the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid in Tallinn on Tuesday (photo: Foreign Affairs)

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Russia have said progress has been made on restoring Russian flights to Egypt.

However, at a news conference held in Moscow earlier this week, neither Sameh Shoukri, Egypt’s foreign minister, nor his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov revealed details or when flights, suspended since 2015, would be resumed.

Russian flights to Egypt were suspended after a Russian passenger flight crashed shortly after taking off from Sharm El-Sheikh Airport in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board.

The presser took place after a meeting between the ministers as a part of Shoukri’s visit to Russia.

Shoukri expressed expectations that Russia would resume air flights and touristic activity to Egypt as soon as possible.

Lavrov noted progress as well. “We regularly consider the issue of resuming direct flights between our countries. Today we have noted positive progress in the work of specialists who are solving the relevant issues and proceed from the premise that there will be additional clarity regarding the prospects for resumed direct flights in the very near future,” Lavrov said.

“Although the visit showed signs of a possible breakthrough in the flight issue, we saw similar signs in previous visits, but the actual resumption of Russian flights to Egypt did not happen,” said a diplomat who talked on condition of anonymity. “The Russian stand is too strong and unjustified.”

Russia has linked the return of airline flights to security measures in Egyptian airports. Various Russian delegations paid inspection visits to Egyptian airports in the last two years to check whether such measures had been fully implemented.

In August 2016, Egypt and Russia agreed on a roadmap for the resumption of Russian flights and tourism to Egypt. In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi that flights would resume between the countries soon.

Egypt was a main destination for Russian tourists, with more than 2.5 million visiting every year until the ban.

The Russian side is obviously evading the resumption of flights or is trying to put pressure on Egypt to sign agreements related to Al-Dabaa nuclear project as soon as possible, according to Rakha Hassan, former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister. Hassan criticised Moscow’s linking of the plant, Egypt’s first nuclear power plant which Russia will build and finance, to the plane incident. 

Talks between Lavrov and Shoukri also focused on countering terrorism and extremism, ways of reducing the potential for conflicts, as well as prospects of creating a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“The visit is a continuation of ties aimed at further building relations ever since 30 June,” said Al-Sayed Amin Shalabi, the executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, referring to the 2013 revolution which ousted Mohamed Morsi as president.

It also came at a time when the final agreement on Al-Dabaa was supposed to be concluded and when Egypt is expecting the travel ban to be lifted, Shalabi added.

Shoukri and Lavrov discussed other international and regional files of mutual interest, as well as cooperation in the UN Security Council and other international organisations, a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said the two ministers discussed the latest developments in Syria.

“Easing escalation in the coming phase, preparing for the coming Geneva meeting, who will attend, how to unite the Syrian opposition in one delegation, and the situation on the Syrian borders after any settlement, are all issues that need to be thoroughly discussed. Coordination between Cairo and Moscow is needed,” Hassan pointed out.

Regarding Libya, the ministers stressed the importance of the Skhirat agreement and the Egyptian role in restoring stability and national reconciliation in Libya.

Coordination, Hassan elaborated, is also needed for Libya. “Differences in the Skhirat agreement need to be ironed out. Moscow wants to play a role during and after a settlement in Libya,” he said.

Regarding the Palestinians, Shoukri reviewed the latest developments in the occupied territories and the outcome of this week’s trilateral meeting with his Palestinian and Jordanian counterparts in Cairo. He stressed the importance of the two-state solution as the way to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Towards the end of his visit, Shoukri met Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov to discuss Russia’s investments in the Egyptian oil and gas sector, as well as in the free economic area set to be established in the Suez Canal Development Zone.

Shoukri said it was high time that Russian investments in Egypt increase.

The two officials last met in the framework of the 2+2 formula in May. They discussed ways to boost bilateral relations on various levels, combating terrorism and the resumption of Russian flights to Egypt as well as pressing regional issues.

Moscow was the first leg of Shoukri’s three-day European tour that included first-time visits to Estonia and Lithuania. He met top officials in both states to discuss ways to bolster economic, political and trade ties with Egypt and delivered a letter from Al-Sisi to the presidents of the two countries.

Both countries, Hassan explained, managed to make economic leaps ever since they gained their independence from the former Soviet Union. Thus cooperation with them can be of mutual benefit. “Besides, they are both members of the executive board of UNESCO, so their support of Mushira Khattab’s nomination is welcome,” he said.

During this week’s tour, Shoukri sought to promote the candidacy of Khattab, a former minister of family and population, who is running for UNESCO director-general.

Russia, Estonia and Lithuania are executive board members of UNESCO. The board elects the secretary-general in a secret ballot to be held in October.

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