Egypt-Russia Relations: Drivers and Dimensions of a Stable Partnership
Nourhan ElSheikh

May 13, 2024
Egypt is inaugurating a new era in its contemporary history, aiming to make a developmental and strategic leap. In this regard, Cairo needs to develop many regional and international partnerships, among the most important of which is the strategic one with Russia. The two countries have succeeded in establishing cooperation in various fields on the basis of a solid base of mutual interests. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has been a critical test for that partnership. Despite the pressure on Egypt since the outbreak of the conflict to halt cooperation with Russia and join Western sanctions, Cairo, like most of the Global South, has maintained balance in its relations between the West and Russia. That has not been entirely to the liking of Russia, but it has helped ensure the stability of the partnership between the two countries, which is undergirded by three main pillars.

Political relations

The Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement signed between Egypt and Russia in 2018 came into force on January 10, 2021.1 The agreement is the cornerstone for strengthening the partnership between the two countries, bringing it to an unprecedented strategic level. It represents a framework that ensures the continued development of cooperation between Cairo and Moscow in the political, security, economic, technical and cultural fields in a way that serves their mutual interests.

Still, summits are no longer as regular between the two presidents as before. The last visit of President Putin to Cairo was in 2017. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attended the Russia-Africa summit held in St Petersburg in July 2023 and met President Putin on the sidelines. It was his first visit to Russia since the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019. Direct communication and coordination has continued between the two presidents, as well as between the foreign ministers, on various regional issues, most notably Gaza, Sudan, Libya and the security of the Red Sea.

There is harmony in visions and positions between the two countries regarding regional and international issues. This is clearly reflected in their voting at the United Nations. Nevertheless, Egypt has supported all UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia and demanding its withdrawal from Ukraine – on March 2, 2022, on October 12, 2022, and on February 23, 2023 – given Cairo’s commitment to the principle of territorial integrity.2

The Egyptian and Russian approaches to combating terrorism coincide. The lists of banned terrorist organizations are almost identical in the two countries. Cairo and Moscow see eliminating ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the region as the main and most important challenge. Moscow has supported the measures taken by the Egyptian government to wipe out terrorism and organized crime in the Sinai Peninsula. This opens possibilities for broad security and intelligence cooperation, including exchanging information about terrorists and their displacement from Syria toward Egypt, Libya and other neighboring countries.

It also involves borrowing the latest Russian-developed techniques for detecting explosives and combating terrorism. In November 2017, an agreement was signed on the mutual use of airspace and airport infrastructure between Egypt and Russia to bolster high-level coordination in combatting terrorism.3 This is in addition to joint training and maneuvers, the most important of which are the so-called “Defenders of Friendship,” held annually since 2016 on a rotating basis.

Historically, Russia has been an important military partner for Egypt since the Soviet period, with cooperation starting in the 1950s and continuing until the mid-1970s. During the following decades, Egypt retained many Russian arms, some of which are still in service. Within the framework of Egypt’s policy aimed at diversifying arms purchases, military cooperation has grown with Russia, particularly since 2013. Moscow has showed readiness to provide Egypt with the most modern fighters for air defense, as well as missiles, naval weapons and other systems, besides reviving Egypt’s own defense industry.

Economic and technical cooperation

Russia is an important source of modern technology, especially in the energy sector. Through cooperation with Russia, Egypt’s first nuclear power station is being built in El Dabaa. It is a giant development project, no less important and prominent than the Aswan Dam project. It will help launch many development projects and the so-called New Valley, accommodating the high population density and providing job opportunities and wide possibilities for Egyptians. Rosatom is to provide Egypt with the latest, Generation III reactor technology, which meets the highest safety standards. Work on the project is progressing according to the agreed timeline. On January 23, 2024, presidents Sisi and Putin took part in a concrete pouring ceremony at the fourth and final reactor at the nuclear power station. The first unit is scheduled to start operating in 2028.

Space is another promising area of the Egypt-Russia partnership. On February 21, 2019, the Egyptian satellite EgyptSat-A was launched, in cooperation with Russia’s Energia rocket and space corporation. It provides high-resolution images of the Earth, thus immensely helping urban planning in Egypt, monitoring desertification, and following crop composition and growth, as well as the paths of seas, rivers and water courses. Egypt can also provide space services to other African countries, assisting them in evaluating, monitoring and managing their resources based on data obtained from the Egyptian satellite.

A third dimension of the technical partnership between the two countries is the developing of Egyptian industrial infrastructure. This includes a wide range of important new projects and modernizing factories built during the Soviet era. The Russian industrial zone east of Port Said is the most prominent of these projects. Focused on the automobile, aircraft, electronics and computer industries, it will enhance Egypt's role as a gateway to African and Middle Eastern markets, since Egypt has trade agreements on preferential terms with countries in the region.
Trade is considered a pillar of the bilateral partnership given the structural integration of the two countries' economies. Russia is an important market for Egyptian consumer goods, especially clothes, cotton, shoes, leather products, medicines, marble and ceramics, citrus fruit and furniture. Trade exceeded $5 billion in 2023, one third of Russia’s trade with the whole continent of Africa.4 Still, there is potential for expansion, as the Russian market can absorb a wide range of Egyptian agricultural and consumer products. At the same time, Russia supplies Egypt with about 70% of its wheat needs.5 The two countries are cooperating to establish a global logistics center for storing and trading grains at the port of Damietta on the Mediterranean Sea, with a capacity of 7.5 million tons. Over time, this is expected to become part of the regional corridor Russia-Middle East-Africa.

On January 1, 2024, Egypt became a member of BRICS. It had joined the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) in December 2021 with a contribution of $1.2 billion. Egypt's exports to other BRICS countries is expected to double thanks to the global projects and economic blocs led by BRICS countries, i.e., China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union and Mercosur. Attracting more foreign direct investment from BRICS member countries is another positive expected outcome. The investments of the BRICS countries in Egypt amounted to $891.2 million in 2021-22.6 That seems very small given the resources of the BRICS countries and the investment opportunities available in Egypt. Egypt's membership in the NDB allows it to obtain concessional financing for its development projects without such conditions as those imposed by the World Bank and IMF.

Cultural relations

During the Sochi summit on October 17, 2018, the Egyptian and Russian presidents declared 2020 as the “year of human and cultural interaction between Egypt and Russia.” There are many cultural bridges linking the two countries, the most important of which are religious ties, cultural centers, Egyptian scholars in Russia and Russian tourists in Egypt. Work is underway to establish an Egyptian branch of the consortium of Russian universities specializing in atomic engineering at Borg El Arab Technological University, with the aim of training local personnel to work in the El Dabaa nuclear power station. Given the popularity of medical education in Russia, Branches of St. Petersburg State University and Kazan Federal University jointly with the Egyptian partner specialized in healthcare are also under construction. There are 23,000 Egyptian students in Russia pursuing various specializations, including those related to nuclear energy. About 2,000 Egyptians study the Russian language at 11 Egyptian universities, while new Russian language departments are opened every year at Egyptian universities. Branches of St Petersburg and Kazan federal universities are also being established.7 In addition, Russia represents the second largest source of tourists for Egypt, with 1.5 million Russians visiting in 2023.8

Meanwhile, the last decade has seen unprecedented cooperation and rapprochement between the Coptic and Russian Orthodox churches, boosted by the visit of Patriarch Kirill to Egypt in 2010 and the visits of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria to Moscow in 2014 and 2017.
The historical experience of Soviet support for Egypt, especially in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973, and cultural interaction have contributed to a positive image of Russia among the Egyptian public. The majority of Egyptians see Russia as a supportive partner in times of crisis. Although Western media has tried to undermine that image during the Russia-Ukraine war, Russia’s position toward the war in Gaza has bolstered its reputation as a friend and supporter of Palestinian rights, gaining Moscow popularity not only in Egypt, but in Arab and Islamic countries as well.

Mutual interests are the basis of the partnership between Egypt and Russia. The Russia-Ukraine war has imposed challenges on cooperation between Egypt and Russia, like Russia’s exit from the SWIFT system and sanctions, which have relatively slowed trade between the two countries and created difficulties for Russian tourism to Egypt and Egyptian students in Russia as well – especially since Egypt has not yet put into action its decision regarding dealing in national currencies and activating the Russian card payment system Mir. Cairo seeks to maintain the stability of the partnership with Russia and continue it, as it serves Egyptian interests, enhances the country’s development potential, and boosts national security.
Against this backdrop, Egypt-Russia cooperation will move forward, especially economically and technologically. However, this does not mean complete alignment with Russia. Egyptian politics is characterized by neutrality and balance. That has been evident as Cairo has consolidated its strategic partnership with the US and EU alongside those with Russia and China. After all, the national interest and national security are what drives Egyptian policy.

[1] The Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement, signed between Egypt and Russia in 2018,

[2] UN General Assembly calls for immediate end to war in Ukraine,
[3] Russian Government Internet Portal: Russia and Egypt to Sign Pact Allowing Mutual Use of Territorial Airspace And Military Bases, November 30, 2017,

[4] Ahram Online, Wednesday 26 Jul 2023,

[5] Russia has increased wheat supplies to Egypt, 20 Feb. 2024,

[6] Ahram Online, Thursday 24 Aug 2023,

[7] Education in Russia for Egyptian Citizens, Higher Education Discovery, № 9 (29) 2023,
[8] RuNews24, 20 Feb. 2024,
  • Nourhan ElSheikh

    Cairo University
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