CAIRO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will begin a tour of Africa starting with Egypt on Sunday in an effort to build non-Western ties.
Lavrov’s Cairo visit will be followed by trips to Ethiopia, Uganda and Congo.
He will meet with members of the Arab League in the Egyptian capital, and is scheduled to address the Council of the Arab League, according to an announcement.
Lavrov will meet Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and representatives from the organization’s 22 member states.
Political expert Jamal Shakra said that Lavrov’s visit to Egypt comes in line with Cairo’s “unbiased position” on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Shakra expects Lavrov to use the visit to clarify Russia’s view of the war and attract allies outside the West.
He told Arab News that Lavrov’s first visit to the region since the February invasion of Ukraine will bolster ties that were strengthened following a visit to Moscow by an Arab delegation in April.
The Russian foreign minister’s tour follows US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the Middle East, during which he visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia. Biden also took part in a summit of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in addition to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Hussein Haridi, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said that Lavrov’s visit “is not a response” to Biden because Russia is targeting its interests in Africa as opposed to the Middle East.
Haridi added that Moscow has a “large presence in the region,” and that Arab and African countries are keen to strengthen relations with Moscow, but will avoid taking sides in the Ukraine war.
The former Egyptian diplomat said that the course of Egyptian-Russian bilateral relations is “completely independent” of events in Ukraine.
Haridi told Arab News that Lavrov’s visit to Egypt and Ethiopia could indicate Moscow’s interest in the Renaissance Dam dispute.
Eurasia Review, a US-based independent journal, described the visit as an attempt by Moscow to “form a new international and regional agenda,” and “build a multicenter structure for relations between countries.”
Lavrov announced the tour in a press conference on Thursday, saying: “We have reciprocal annual visits to Africa, and this year my visit to Africa will include Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Congo. Egypt is our leading partner in the construction of the industrial zone in Suez and the El-Dabaa nuclear plant.”
He added: “We have participated in the construction of giant industrial projects on the African continent, in addition to the role of the Soviet Union in liberating many African countries from colonialism.”
Lavrov said that the tour will also focus on preparations for this year’s Russia-Africa summit.