Workers walk along the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia, on December 26, 2019 (AFP / Eduardo Soteras)

No evidence behind claims that Putin vowed to back Ethiopia in Nile dam dispute

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A Facebook post shared in Ethiopia claims to show comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin backing the African country in its dispute with neighbours over the mega-dam it has built on the Nile river. However, AFP Fact Check found no evidence that Putin ever made these comments nor issued them in any statement. 

An Ahmaric-language screenshot shared by a Facebook account in Ethiopia claims to repeat remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. These comments purportedly express his support for Ethiopia in its dispute with its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). 

“#Breaking news #What is impossible to God? Nothing,” begins the Ahramic-language post, which has been shared 90 times since it was published on October 25, 2020.  

Screenshot of the misleading claim on Facebook, taken on November 1, 2020

The post goes on to claim that in response to remarks made by US President Donald Trump suggesting Egypt might “blow up” the dam, Russia would back Ethiopia.  

“Russia’s people and the government will stand next to, and help by any means necessary, the Ethiopian people who are building a dam with their own money, on their own river,” the post quotes Putin as purportedly saying. 

Since Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011, the project has been a source of diplomatic tension with Egypt and Sudan, who are worried that it will restrict vital water supplies.

Although the dam is not yet completed, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office announced in July that the first year filling targets had been achieved and that water levels were increasing. 

The Facebook post’s quotes attributed to Putin conclude: “The world should know that Russia is ready to retaliate if any country tries to attack the Grand Renaissance Dam.”

However, the claims made in this post are baseless.

No evidence of a statement by Putin

No such statement was issued by the Kremlin, whose communications are available here in English. Nor did AFP Fact Check find any similar statement made by Putin in news reports. 

According to the Kremlin’s website, the last statement regarding Ethiopia was a phone call between the leaders of both countries in April, when they discussed “the importance of invigorating efforts of the entire international community, including the IMF and the World Bank” to combat Covid-19 in Ethiopia.

Leaders of Ethiopia and Egypt met on the sidelines of the Africa-Russia summit, held on 23 and 24 October 2019 in Sochi, in the hopes of resolving the long-lasting feud over the dam. Putin announced he was “ready to play a role in resolving the conflict”, as described in this AFP report

Putin told the two leaders they should take advantage of their presence in Sochi to “directly discuss (their) concerns” and that he also offered “his assistance”. However, unlike the claim made in the misleading Facebook post, Russia never announced it would choose to side with Ethiopia if any military action was taken by Egypt. 

Trump’s comments 

Trump held a conference call on October 23, 2020, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok. The leaders discussed the beginning of economic and trade relations between the two countries, described in this joint statement released by the White House.

At 3 minutes and 55 seconds into this video of the conference call, Trump tells Hamdok, referring to Egypt, “They’ll end up blowing up the dam. And I said it and I say it loud and clear -- they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”

The Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia issued a press release the next day, denouncing Trump’s comments as “misguided, unproductive, and clear violations of international law”.