Russia will provide Egypt with energy, the US will supply weapons

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Through a virtual conference, Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, began the construction of the fourth power unit of Egypt’s principal nuclear power plant. This mission is not just an economic venture for Moscow, but also a strategic move in strengthening relations with Egypt, a significant Washington ally in the Middle East. 

Photo by Serhei Chirakov, Pool, AFP

In the eponymous city located 300 kilometers from Cairo, Rosatom, a Russian corporation, is building the El-Dabaa nuclear power plant — Egypt’s first nuclear power station. Construction of the first and second power units began in 2022, followed by the third in 2023. By 2028, Egypt is expected to stand out as the only country in the region with the “3+” generation of Russian VVER-1200 reactor units. The nuclear plant’s total packaged electrical capacity will be just under 4.8 GW. 

With a budget of $30 billion, this project is the largest venture Rosatom has ever embarked on. Alongside other foreign endeavors by the state corporation, Moscow generously extends an export construction loan of $25 billion to Egypt. 

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, proposes that the NPP project will play a crucial role in bolstering the Egyptian economy and solidifying its energy foundation. Rosatom’s head, Alexei Likhachev notes that construction contracts have surpassed the $1.2 billion mark, and over 90 companies have a stake in the nuclear plant’s development. 

This project boasts an international flavor thanks to the South Korean company KHNP, which will supply the necessary equipment for the nuclear power plant. The supplies are estimated to cost over $2.5 billion. South Korea’s representative reassures that, despite delays in negotiation, there is no looming threat of sanctions. 

Anton Smirnov, the scientific editor of Nuclear Energy and Technologies magazine explains, “The African continent is steadily gravitating towards nuclear energy thanks to Rosatom. The construction activity in Egypt is among the most extensive nuclear power projects globally as four units are being built simultaneously. Considering that Russia is concurrently developing nuclear power plants domestically and executing massive projects overseas, in countries like Egypt, China, and Turkey, it’s evident that the state corporation has formulated a reliable formula for successful nuclear power plant construction.” 

Photo credit: Facebook

In a friendly conversation with Egypt’s President, Putin reminisced about Soviet specialists’ pivotal role in constructing the Aswan Dam along the Nile River. The Egyptian head of state responded by warmly referring to Putin as a “brother”, which can be construed as a subtle nod towards Putin’s re-election efforts. 

Despite the tensions in Ukraine, Moscow’s achievement of initiating the nuclear plant in Egypt confirms its commendable influence in the region. Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt’s authoritarian leader, who has maintained neutrality in Ukraine’s crisis, shares a cordial relationship with Putin. 

As relationships with adversarial countries continue to decline, Moscow and Cairo have seen a sharp increase in their trade volume, which is estimated to have reached $7 billion. As Putin reveals, the value has ramped up by 20% within the first ten months of 2023. 

Weapons from the USA 

In the realm of global trade, the US holds the position of being the third-largest trade partner of Cairo, following the UAE and China, according to data from the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. As of 2022, intercountry trade stands at a staggering 9.4 billion dollars. 

With regards to Cairo’s diplomatic relationships, it generally aligns with Washington’s stance, which is a significant benefactor in terms of military assistance. Recently, in September 2023, Egypt received $1.3 billion in aid from the US, despite some senators voicing their objections due to Cairo’s alleged disregard for human rights in the region. It’s interesting to note that Cairo also maintains a crucial bond with Moscow in the sphere of arms exports. 

For instance, back in 2019, the two parties agreed on Egypt procuring 20 Su-35 aircraft from Moscow. But, under the United States’ influence, Cairo reneged on this deal. This led to these Russian aircraft being eventually purchased by Iran. 

Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

Lately, Egypt’s political clout has seen a noticeable surge due to its key role in the armed conflict in the Gaza Strip, initiated by Israel, which shares a border with Egypt. Cairo has been an active participant in peace talks, advocating for a swift ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist group, Hamas. However, Israel’s aim remains to eradicate Hamas from Gaza and assume control of the crossing point between the Strip and Egypt. 

Egypt has responded with a stern warning that such actions could negatively impact their bilateral relations. It’s reasonable to assume that at the launch of the nuclear power plant, the Egyptian president may have seized the opportunity to discuss the issues related to Gaza with Putin, who he referred to as his “brother”.

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