Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1394, (17 - 23 May 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1394, (17 - 23 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Stronger with 2+2

Egypt and Russia are continuing to bolster relations through their series of bilateral 2+2 meetings, reports Doaa El-Bey


Shoukri and Lavrov head the bilateral meeting in Moscow this week
Shoukri and Lavrov head the bilateral meeting in Moscow this week

“The holding of the 2+2 meetings for the fourth time reflects the importance of these meetings to Cairo and Moscow and the two countries’ awareness of their value on the strategic, political, and economic levels,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said on Monday after the fourth 2+2 meeting between Egypt and Russia was held in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov together with Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi and Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu attended this week’s 2+2 meeting that brought together the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries in order to discuss foreign policy, defence and security-related issues.

Boosting bilateral relations was a priority at this week’s meeting, and the two foreign ministers pointed to the boost that had been given to relations in 2017 that ended with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Cairo in December.

The visit saw the signing of a $21 billion deal to start work on Egypt’s Dabaa nuclear power plant. It was followed by the resumption of flights between the two countries in April and the expected signing of an agreement to establish a Russian industrial zone in Egypt during the meeting of the Joint Egyptian-Russian Committee in Moscow from 21 to 23 of this month, Abu Zeid said.

The development of the Egyptian economy and the increasing potential for investment and trade with Russia was another important issue tackled during the meeting. Trade exchanges between the two countries reached some $6.7 billion in 2017. Russian investment in Egypt amounts to more than $66 million, according to a statement issued by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.   

The consultative meetings of which the 2+2 meetings are a part have acquired growing importance in recent years because of the pressing challenges the region has been facing. Issues like the situations in Syria, Yemen and Libya, the Palestinian cause, and the Iranian nuclear deal topped the agenda at this week’s meeting.

The two sides also agreed on the importance of coordinating efforts to combat terrorism.

The last round of the 2+2 meetings was held in May last year. Egypt is the sixth country, and the only Arab country, to have engaged with Russia through 2+2 strategic dialogue. The list includes the US, Italy, the UK and Japan, and it shows the strategic value of Egypt to Russian foreign policy.

Relations between the two countries saw a major development when Putin visited Egypt in December last year. In addition to agreeing that Russia would build Egypt’s first nuclear reactor, with construction expected to finish in 2028-2029, it was also agreed that a Russian Industrial Zone would be built along the Suez Canal that will produce Russian goods for the Middle Eastern and North African markets.

Closer ties with Russia began as early as September 2011, when then foreign minister Nabil Fahmi travelled to Russia for talks with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Fahmi said that Egypt wished to return to Soviet-level relations with Russia, and Lavrov said there could be military cooperation between the Russian and Egyptian navy and air forces. 

Lavrov and Shoigu then visited Egypt in November of the same year to hold the first 2+2 meeting with Fahmi and Egypt’s then defence minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. A second 2+2 meeting was held in Moscow in February 2014, with the two meetings, together with Al-Sisi’s trip to Moscow following his election as president in 2014, opening the door to greater cooperation with Russia, especially in the military and nuclear fields.

Putin was the first world leader to meet with President Al-Sisi when he first took office in a two-day visit to Cairo in February 2015. The visit aimed to bolster bilateral ties and was part of Egypt’s desire to build a foreign policy based on broad and balanced regional and international relations.

Bilateral relations were strained after the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Sinai in October 2015 and the subsequent suspension of Russian flights to Egypt for two years, a move that hit Egypt’s tourism industry hard.

Egypt received around three million Russian tourists in 2014. Relations between the two countries were boosted by the resumption of Russian flights to Egypt in April this year.

Earlier this week, the state-controlled Russian broadcaster Russia Today (RT) removed an opinion poll about the ownership of the Red Sea border area of the Halayeb Triangle, which is disputed between Egypt and Sudan, after Cairo officially protested to Moscow.

The protest came two days before the 2+2 meeting in Moscow on Monday.

The Halayeb Triangle, which falls within Egyptian borders and is controlled by Egypt, has been claimed by Sudan since 1958. The disputed area has long been a source of contention between the two neighbouring states.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday after a call to take part in the poll went viral on social media demanding an explanation from Moscow about the opinion poll, aired by Russia Today on its Arabic news channel last Friday.

“The ministry contacted the Russian side on 12 May to express its strong condemnation of the opinion poll conducted by the Russian government-affiliated channel, and it demanded an urgent explanation of this unacceptable conduct,” Abu Zeid said in the statement.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri cancelled an interview he had planned with RT ahead of the foreign and defence ministers meeting.

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