Kyrill Koktysh, Associate Professor at the Institute of International Relations, Kamal Gaballa, Managing Editor, Al-Ahram daily, Cairo, Evgeny Satanovsky, prominent author and President of the Institute of the Middle East, Kevork Elmassian, Independent political activist and employee at Al-Etejah English Channel.
Andrew Korybko: I think the larger question is – have the relations between Russia and Egypt stabilized after the chaos there and, more importantly, have they solidified and could we be seeing a return to the historical relations?
Kyrill Koktysh: Now Egypt is the first country that recovered from the Arab Spring. This means that the wave of revolution was stopped and Mr. al-Sisi becomes an ideological ally of Mr. Putin, because he is trying to fix the wave of the Arab revolution and, probably, to reverse this development to a more peaceful one.
On the political side, was President Putin’s visit a sign of Russia trying to counterbalance the isolation policy pursued by the West?
Kyrill Koktysh: Russia has close ties with China, close ties with India and BRICS block unites more than half of the world. So, there is no matter of isolation. What is more important, in my opinion, it means that the ME becomes a very important region once again. So, it is not just to prove that we are not isolated, but to be one of the important brokers of the processes in the ME.
Andrew Korybko: Is Egypt positioning itself between the US and Russia, is it at a crossroads or does it want to remain being a bridge?
Kamal Gaballa: I think this is a big mistake to say that Egypt is replacing Washington with Moscow. The new era in Egypt is opening the door to have a good relationship with the countries around the world. Ii think President Sisi is trying his best to have a balance in the Egypt’s relationships with the others in the world. Sisi visited Moscow two times before, once when he was the Minister of Defense and second time when he was elected as the President. This is the third summit between Sisi and Putin in Egypt.
I think the Egyptians are very happy to increase the relationship between Egypt and Russia not because the relations between Egypt and the US are not good enough, but because the US, it seems, doesn’t understand the Egyptian steps towards a new era, to build a real democratic and civilian state in Egypt. The US was supporting the regime of the MB in Egypt and around the Arab world. And I think Russia and President Putin himself understand the Egyptian steps towards the new era. So, that is why we are supporting President Sisi’s steps to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
Andrew Korybko: We are discussing President Putin’s visit to Egypt. A lot of deals were signed, specifically on the nuclear power plant and the Eurasian Economic Union. Can you put this in the context and tell us what the significance is in the overall perspective of the ME?
Evgeny Satanovsky: First, Egypt is, maybe, the best country in the Arab world to build the nuclear industry. Looking at Mohamed ElBaradei’s biography and the system of the Egyptian universities where there are so many specialists in mathematics and physics, that in the level of scientists we have some team.
Sergei Strokan: As I know, Egypt has already secured a long-term contract to buy 7 cargoes of LNG annually from Gazprom for the period of 5 years. What do you make out of that energy cooperation between the two countries?
Evgeny Satanovsky: There are a lot of possibilities in our cooperation with gas and with oil also. There is a Gazprom’s potential and Egypt’s potential. What will it be realized or, maybe, will they be partners with us on the European market, it is too early to discuss. But what is really important is that the two countries agree to move in this direction. In this not so easy situation on the European market and in the situation of high-level competition on the global energy market the cooperation with Egypt is important, as a minimum, in this area of Mediterranean.
Andrew Korybko: Maybe, Egypt and Russia could have some complementary diplomacy to help solve the crisis in Syria. What are your thoughts on this?
Kevork Elmassian: Exactly! This historic visit of President Putin to Egypt lies in the policy of Putin to break the isolation attempts by the US and the EU countries, and to impose more sanctions on Moscow. But the most important aspect in the ME is the Egyptian initiative to solve the Syrian crisis in the political way. Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria Russia and its allies were promoting for a diplomatic solution. The Western camp, on the contrary, namely the US and the EU were pushing for further militarization of the crisis on the Syrian soil, in order to push further their geopolitical interests in the ME.
However, the teams have reached a point in Syria where it was a deadlock for the Americans and for the Europeans. It was obvious after four years of a brutal war in Syria that there is no way to overthrow President Bashar Assad by force. Therefore, they have to understand that the only way out of this crisis and save their face in the bloody war that they triggered in the ME is to talk to President Bashar Assad.
And now Sisi is playing this role. But he is playing it under cover now. He didn’t declare that he supports the state of President Bashar Assad, but the security delegations that come from Egypt to Syria say that the stay of President Bashar Assad is necessary in order to crash the terrorism phenomenon in the ME. And Russia here also plays a very important role to keep the social and the political unity of the Syrian Arab republic. We all know that the Russian geopolitical and the strategic interest in the ME is to prevent the further division into different states.
Andrew Korybko: Can Egypt be a bridge between Russia and Saudi Arabia?
Kevork Elmassian: I believe Saudi Arabia has good relationship with Sisi and Sisi is the right man to broker between the Russians and Saudi Arabia, as well as between Saudi Arabia and Syria. I believe the future in the ME will be pro-Sisi, because Sisi is now playing the role of the hub to connect different parties. He is trying to diversify his connections between the Americans and the Russians, between Tehran and the Saudi Arabia. We are trying to play an extending role in the ME.