Russia offers technical help to break Nile dam dispute deadlock

Egypt and Sudan want a deal with Ethiopia over the filling and use of its hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a news conference following their meeting in Cairo, Egypt April 12, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
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Russia is prepared to offer technical assistance to push forward the deadlocked negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over a disputed hydroelectric Nile dam being built by Addis Ababa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday.

Egypt fears the dam will cut its vital share of the Nile’s water, while Sudan says it wants Ethiopia to provide real-time data on the operation and filling of the dam, to avoid destructive floods and disruption of its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile.

The two nations have for years been pressing Ethiopia to enter a legally binding deal that covers mechanisms for handling persistent drought and resolving future disputes.

Ethiopia, which says the dam is key to its development, insists on guidelines, rather than a legally binding deal.

Speaking after talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, Mr Lavrov made it clear that Moscow was prepared to offer technical expertise to help the three nations resolve outstanding issues but it would not mediate in the long-running dispute.

Only through dialogue between the three nations, he added, can the dispute be settled, with the role of third parties restricted to the creation of conditions to help the talks move forward.

“We will not play other roles and we were not invited to mediate,” Mr Lavrov said, arguing that the African Union was the most suitable party to mediate in the talks, which began 10 years ago but have yet to bear fruit.

“An African resolution reached through African efforts,” the veteran Russian minister said.

Speaking after his Russian guest, Mr Shukry disagreed, saying the African Union mediation was faltering because of what he called Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Russia, he added, had the ability and international standing to play an active role in the dispute and prevent Ethiopia from taking unilateral action.

During the latest round of negotiations held last week, Egypt and Sudan formally proposed the creation of a quartet comprising the United States, United Nations, the European Union and the African Union to mediate in the dispute.

Ethiopia rejected the proposal and said it intended to go ahead with a second and much larger filling of the dam in July, regardless of whether a deal was reached.

Egypt’s President El Sisi earlier told Mr Lavrov that failure to resolve the dispute over the dam, which is nearly 80 per cent complete, would “negatively impact on the security and stability of the entire region,” according to a presidential statement.

No one, he said, should feel out of the reach of Egypt’s “capabilities,” an apparent reference to the use of military force, as a last resort, if Ethiopia continued what Cairo and Khartoum view as intransigence and time-wasting tactics.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will generate 6,000 megawatts on completion.

Ethiopia says the electricity will lift millions of its people from poverty and that a surplus will be available for export to neighbouring countries.

The dam is built on the Blue Nile less than 20 kilometres from the Sudanese border.