interviews : Egypt is Russia’s foremost trade partner in Africa: Russian Ambassador

Thursday 13 June 2024 10:47 PM

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The bond between Russia and Egypt is a cornerstone of international diplomacy, rooted in a shared history and cultural heritage. Celebrating Russia’s National Day, Daily News Egypt engaged in a profound dialogue with Ambassador Georgiy Borisenko. The conversation spanned the latest updates in the free zone and the concerted efforts to strengthen the ties between the two countries. We also explored the evolving challenges and prospects within the global context. These dialogues highlighted the robust and diverse nature of the Russia-Egypt relationship, underscoring the alliance’s depth and importance.

 

What is your perspective on the current state of Egyptian-Russian relations?

Egypt is a significant partner for Russia, acting as our gateway to Africa. Our partnership has historical roots that date back to the sixteenth century, and it saw remarkable growth in the twentieth century. We celebrated the 80th anniversary of our diplomatic ties last August.

Under President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s leadership, our relationship developed rapidly. Russia, especially during the Soviet era, was instrumental in helping Egypt construct major industrial projects, such as the Aswan High Dam.

With President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, we’ve entered a new era of prosperity. In 2018, our presidents signed a strategic partnership and cooperation agreement, which came into force in 2021, affirming our status as strategic partners.

A prime example of our partnership is Russia’s support in constructing Egypt’s first nuclear plant at El-Dabaa. Our defence ministries maintain strong ties and collaborate on military production. Internationally, we cooperate closely within the United Nations, with efforts like the Cybercrime Treaty and combating international terrorism. Egypt’s significant influence in the Arab world and Africa makes it a key regional player for us. We aspire for our relationship to continue to flourish and highly appreciate the current state of our relations.

 

You mentioned that Egypt serves as a crucial entry point for Russia into Africa. Can you elaborate on the economic advantages of this?

Egypt is a pivotal gateway for Russia into the African market. Our trade with Egypt accounts for over a third of our total trade with Africa, making Egypt our top trading partner on the continent. Last year, our trade volume reached $7.1bn.

Post-COVID-19, our trade has seen a resurgence, particularly in wheat exports to Egypt, which constitute about 8 billion tonnes or 80% of Egypt’s total wheat imports.

 

What developments have occurred regarding the Russian Industrial Zone along the Suez Canal?

A: The initial agreement for the Russian Industrial Zone was signed in 2018. Last March, we signed an additional protocol with amendments to the agreement, which awaits approval by the Egyptian parliament.

This zone will enable Russian-manufactured products to be sold in Egypt and other African markets. Egypt’s market size makes it especially attractive to Russian companies. The project, set to be implemented in Ain Sokhna and Port Said, is backed by allocated Russian funds, and we’re encouraged by the commitment of our Egyptian partners.

 

Despite various cooperative projects and sectors, Russian tourism in Egypt hasn’t fully recovered since the 2015 aeroplane incident. What are the reasons?

The tragic event in 2015 was a setback. In 2014, we saw 3.3 million Russian tourists in Egypt. Flights resumed in August 2021, with 55 Russian airports authorised to operate flights to Egypt, resulting in 50 daily flights to Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh, and Hurghada throughout 2021.

After the Russian military operation began in February 2022, our aircraft fleet faced challenges due to Western sanctions, reducing the number of available aircraft. Despite this, up to 1.5 million Russian tourists visited Egypt last year, which puts them in second place among all visitors, who came to the country. From January till April this year, more than 300 thousand Russians crossed the border with Egypt.

The primary challenge lies in air transportation. Allowing more Russian planes to enter Egypt would significantly boost the influx of Russian tourists. Presently, certain big Russian Boeings due to the possibility of the US secondary sanctions are prohibited from flying to Egypt. If these planes could be utilised, it would lead to a great surplus in Russian tourism to Egypt.

 

Is BRICS a lifeline for emerging economies or specifically for the Russian economy?

We do not view BRICS as a means to counteract sanctions against Russia. Our objective as a collective is to establish a new framework for global economic, political, and social relations. Russia firmly believes that the world is transitioning towards a multipolar reality, which is evident in our daily lives. Over the past three decades, we have witnessed the rapid development of China and India, and now we are witnessing the progress of Brazil and several other nations. And Russia itself has become the fourth-largest economy in the world by purchasing power parity.

We are confident that the Arab world has the potential to become an influential pole in this new multipolar world, with Egypt at its core. Arab countries possess significant financial, agricultural, and industrial resources. Moreover, they boast a rich history, a large population, and a youthful workforce eager to contribute. And the recent meeting of BRICS foreign ministers in Russian Nizhniy Novgorod on June 10-11 clearly showed the growing importance of the bloc. Therefore, we consider BRICS to be a reflection of the emerging global trend and an integral part of establishing a new world order that is no longer unipolar and not solely dominated by the United States and Western nations.

This like-minded group would undoubtedly bring economic and political benefits to its members. We are not opposed to the West; in fact, we are ready to cooperate with them. Unfortunately, the West seems reluctant to cooperate and instead imposes sanctions on Russia and some other countries. Our intention is not to exclude the West, but rather, it is the West that isolates itself from the rest of the world. Western policies consistently lead to self-isolation. Nevertheless, we remain open to fostering positive relations with Western countries, provided they are based on equality, similar to the collaborative decision-making process within the BRICS group.

 

Does Russia still describe its activities in Ukraine as a “military operation,” especially in light of recent Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory?

Currently, it remains a military operation with particular goals aimed at protecting Russians from the “Nazi Kyiv” regime. We are dissatisfied that the unwillingness of Ukraine under Western pressure to find a peaceful solution causes so many casualties, especially for the Ukrainian Army. However, from our perspective, the majority of military operations take place within Russian territory, because back in 2022 as a result of a legitimate referendum the regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation. We must defend and reclaim these lands, as they are partially occupied by Ukrainian forces. Therefore, we will continue our special military operation until these areas are liberated.

We have repeatedly stated that due to the constant attacks on Russian territory, we must push Ukrainian missiles and artillery further away to prevent them from targeting our land, especially the Belgorod region, that is why our Army is pushing Ukrainians back in the Kharkiv area. With the increasing influx of equipment and long-range missiles from Western countries, we must push Ukrainian forces as far as possible from our territory, because securing our borders is one of the main goals of the operation.

The decision of Ukrainian leaders to attack our lands appears irrational, as their losses far surpass ours. Their casualties could be up to 10 times higher than ours. We are deeply saddened by the situation, as it might be considered a civil war in some way because soldiers from both sides are of Russian origin. The Ukrainians are essentially Russians, differing only in dialect, and they have been influenced by Western media and their leaders, which led them towards an impending disaster due to their reliance on the West.

In March 2022, Zelensky showed a willingness to negotiate with Russia, but influenced by the West, he eventually refused to end the negotiations, despite initial agreement on a peace solution. The United States and Great Britain instructed Zelensky not to negotiate. It is evident that the West desires to prolong the war. In fact, Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, acknowledged that the war could cease within weeks or even days if the West ceases to send weapons. However, he added that the West does not desire this outcome.

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