Putin-Sisi talks bring about nuclear, military deals

'Russia is capitalising on the failures of the US administration in the region,' Saad al-Zunt, the head of the Political and Strategic Studies Centre
December 17, 2017
A 2015 file picture shows Russian passengers preparing to depart from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in south Sinai. (AP)
Russians are coming. A 2015 file picture shows Russian passengers preparing to depart from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in south Sinai. (AP)

Cairo- Russian and Egyptian leaders have signed a contract for the con­struction of the Arab country’s first nuclear power plant, a $21 billion facility near Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, and made plans to establish a Rus­sian industrial zone in the Middle Eastern country.

Moscow pledged to help mod­ernise the Egyptian Army, includ­ing with many big-ticket military items, during talks December 11 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Cairo.

It was the eighth such meeting between the two leaders in four years and the nuclear and military deals seem to be part of Russia’s efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East. It has estab­lished military bases in Syria and gained influence in Turkey, ana­lysts said.

“In this, Russia is capitalising on the failures of the US adminis­tration in the region,” said Saad al- Zunt, the head of the Political and Strategic Studies Centre, a Cairo think-tank. “The Russians want to fill in every inch left by the Ameri­cans in the Middle East.”

The significance of the tim­ing of Putin’s visit to Cairo was manifest, analysts said. It came only days after US President Don­ald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which sent shockwaves across the Arab world. Putin, echoing a chorus of other world leaders, said the move would destabilise the re­gion and end prospects of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Putin and Sisi oversaw the sign­ing of a contract for the construc­tion of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant near the coastal city of El Dabaa 300km west of Cairo. Rus­sia’s state-owned Rosatom is to construct the facility, which will include four reactors and cost $21 billion; 85% of the funding is from a long-term loan from Russia.

“The plant will open a totally new chapter in Egypt, one that is long overdue,” said Abdelhadi al-Sueify, an economics professor at Assiut University in southern Egypt. “Apart from securing the electricity supply for millions of Egyptians, the project will help Egypt enter the nuclear power age, which can contribute a lot to economic development here.”

Hundreds of Egyptian engi­neers are to be trained in Russia to operate the plant and many of the components for the project are to be manufactured locally.

The four reactors will produce 4,800 megawatts of power and are expected to be fully opera­tional by 2029.

The development of an industri­al zone in the Gulf of Suez should bring in an estimated $7 billion in Russian investments and lead to massive industrial cooperation between Cairo and Moscow, offi­cials said.

The strengthening of economic and military ties between Cairo and Moscow was solidified by the signing December 15 in Moscow of a security protocol that allows for the resumption of direct flights from Russia to Egypt.

When he was in Cairo, Putin praised security measures at Egyptian airports but made the resumption of the flights condi­tional on the protocol on security cooperation. The protocol makes it necessary for Egypt to desig­nate an airport solely for planes arriving from and travelling to Russia, Egyptian media reports said. Some Egyptians consider the protocol an infringement on national sovereignty.

Russia, which used to send Egypt nearly 3 million tourists every year, suspended direct flights following the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai in 2015. Those suspensions were partially responsible for a severe recession in Egypt’s tour­ism sector.

“The absence of Russian tour­ists had nearly devastated the prospects of the tourism sector,” said Adel Abdel Razik, a former deputy head of the Federation of Tourist Chambers, the guild of lo­cal tourism investors. “Everybody waited for Mr Putin to give the go-ahead for the tourists to return.”