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23 Jun, 2009 09:40

Medvedev takes Africa-wide safari

Russia is hoping to reestablish close links with Africa as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev embarks on a tour across the continent. He is accompanied by a trade delegation which will focus on striking energy deals.

Medvedev has arrived in Egypt on an official visit. He met with the country’s leader Hosni Mubarak and discussed international issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, energy security, and the crisis in Iran.

Speaking after the meeting in Cairo, the Russian president said:

“We highly appreciate the efforts which the Egyptian president is making to build an atmosphere of trust and cooperation in the region. We hope that we will continue our reciprocal cooperation in this sphere. I think that an international Middle East peace conference will really contribute to achieving this goal. We are planning to hold it in Moscow before the end of the year.”

The presidents have signed a strategic partnership agreement sealing future relations in military cooperation, tourism, trade and other areas.

Egypt, Russia’s top partner in Africa, is a magnet for Russian tourists, one of the top holiday destinations. Last year almost two million Russian tourists visited this North African country, but since the beginning of this year their number has been affected by the global economic downturn, which is something Egypt would like to change.

During the Egyptian leg of his African tour, Medvedev has also met Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria, the second most important figure in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

The Russian leader spoke at the headquarters of the League of Arab States – a regional organization made up of 21 Arab states, where he also met the organization’s Secretary-General Amr Moussa.

A meeting with speaker of the Egyptian parliament and chairman of the Egypt-Russia Friendship Association Fathi Sorour will round up Medvedev’s working day in Cairo.

After Egypt, Medvedev will visit Nigeria, Namibia and Angola.

Medvedev’s big African tour has already been hailed as Russia’s return to the continent. This is because in Soviet times and during the Cold War the USSR played a very active role in Africa. Back then, Russia had particularly close ties with Angola and to some extent with Egypt as well. The latter’s biggest infrastructure projects were built with Soviet help.

Some analysts are already saying that this visit is about reestablishing Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet sphere of interests.

Back then it was all about ideology and now it is all about business. Moscow is very much interested in the continent’s vast natural reserves. Dmitry Medvedev is being accompanied on the tour by a large number of Russian businessmen and top officials.

For example in Namibia, Russian interests are focused on oil and gas exploration, as well as uranium extraction and diamond cutting.

In Nigeria, a nuclear cooperation deal could be on the cards. Also, Russia’s gas giant Gazprom is very much interested in taking part in the key pipeline project that would send Nigerian gas to Europe. The project is heavily backed by the EU and is aimed at diversifying Europe’s energy supply.

At the same time, despite a very tight schedule, Medvedev is sparing time for some sightseeing. He is expected to visit the legendary pyramids of Egypt and go on a safari trip in Namibia.