Algeria – Russia's strategic stake


Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text

In early April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced an imminent visit to Algeria. "We say "better late than never." But I will proceed from your logic, "the sooner the better," he told his Algerian counterpart Ramtan Lamamre, who was in Moscow as part of the delegation of the League of Arab States (LAS). These words clearly indicate that Russia and Algeria urgently need to discuss very important issues that require coordination of efforts. Moreover, Russia has long been ready for this ("better late than never"), and Algeria is only now "ripe" and needs quick solutions ("the sooner the better").

It seems that we are talking about developing a new action program in a number of areas, in fact, a joint strategy for the coming period.

The most important problem for Algeria is the rivalry with Morocco for leadership in the Maghreb. In recent months, the situation here has undergone significant changes.

Thus, Rabat achieved recognition of its sovereignty by prominent European players, primarily Spain, which was initially involved in solving the problem of Western Sahara. Madrid abruptly changed its position and in early March approved the Moroccan plan for the autonomy of the Western Saharan provinces as part of the Fatimid kingdom. This naturally led to the recall of the Algerian ambassador from the Spanish capital, and also had a generally negative impact on the overall state of Algeria's relations with Europe. After all, none of the Europeans condemned the Spanish demarche.

Algeria's relations with the United States also developed negatively. At the end of March, the head of the US State Department visited the country Anthony Blinken, who toured the region. At the same time, the organization of his visit was perceived here almost as an insult: Blinken flew to Algeria from Rabat and flew there just six hours later, while he spent the night on Moroccan territory twice. This gesture speaks more eloquently than any words about the priorities of American policy in the region.

Indeed, Rabat received assurances from the United States of the stability of the supply of new weapons; in addition, Israel joined the efforts to support the Moroccan military potential. All this has left Algeria in no doubt that a new escalation in the Maghreb is inevitable and, therefore, it is urgently necessary to build up its own muscles.

The development of the situation around the Algerian borders is also pushing for this. In fact, the country found itself in a ring of instability: in the west – Morocco and Western Sahara, in the east – Libya, in the south – Mali, where the French with their operation "Barkhan" They have stirred up a hornet's nest of Islamist terrorists and Tuareg rebels, and Niger, where the same Frenchmen moved after their shameful expulsion from Mali and where the same scenario can be expected to repeat.

In these difficult conditions, Algeria does not have the opportunity to turn to its seemingly most natural partner – Paris. Relations with the former metropolis are in a bad state because of France's inappropriate, according to Algerians, and clumsy attempts to recall its former dominance in Africa. In Algeria, as well as in Mali, these attempts were received with extreme irritation, which is unlikely to be overcome in the near future.

Against this background, Russia looks like the only reliable and time-tested ally, cooperation with which allows Algeria to be confident in its abilities in the face of the many challenges it faces. It is hardly a coincidence that, just before Anthony Blinken's visit to Algeria, talks were held in Moscow between the leadership of Algerian intelligence Noureddine Macri and the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. At the same time, the parties "confirmed the unchangeable nature of the strategic partnership relations between Russia and Algeria."

The most important component of this partnership is the supply of Russian weapons, thanks to which Algeria has the most powerful army in the North African region. The volume of military-technical cooperation between the countries is measured in billions of dollars and there is every reason to believe that they will grow. The dynamics of the situation around Western Sahara leaves Algeria no other choice.

Joint military exercises of the two states are becoming a new area of cooperation in the field of security. For the first time they were held last year on Russian territory. In November of this year, the second such maneuvers will take place, already in Algeria. Although they are still limited in nature, nevertheless, such exercises can make a significant contribution to the creation of an anti-terrorist barrier on the eastern and southern borders of the country.

In the current conditions of extreme instability of world markets due to the sanctions war unleashed by the West against Russia, cooperation in two other important areas, namely, in the energy and food sectors, is of particular importance.

Since the EU intended to abandon the import of Russian energy carriers, it faced the problem of replacing them, primarily due to supplies from the Middle East and North Africa, located near Europe. The Americans have taken it upon themselves to convince the Arabs to join the sanctions war against the Russian Federation and increase the production and export of oil and gas to Europe. But, surprisingly, they did not meet with understanding even from their seemingly closest allies on the Arabian Peninsula. Some hopes were pinned on Iran, with which Washington was ready to renegotiate the "nuclear deal". But this number did not pass.

Algeria remained. It seems that Washington understood perfectly well that it would not be possible to persuade him, not only because of his traditional sympathy for Russia, but also because of acute geopolitical differences over Western Sahara. However, Anthony Blinken made such an attempt during his visit – apparently for the sake of clearing his conscience – and was refused.

True, Algeria does not mind making good money on the current situation: just the other day Italy signed a contract with it for oil supplies designed to mitigate the consequences of the European embargo on "black gold" from Russia. It is possible that this will somehow help the Italians, but Algeria is definitely not able to satisfy the "energy hunger" of Europe, even if it tried.

Thus, there is a situation in which revenues from Algeria's oil and gas exports have increased many times and are likely to grow in the foreseeable future. At the same time, it will maintain a favorable balance of the global energy market for Russia, in which Europe does not receive any real hopes for the success of its blockade of Russian hydrocarbons.

This position, apparently, will be appreciated in Moscow, whose gratitude can be expressed in providing truly invaluable assistance in the most relevant direction today - food. After all, as it is now quite clear, the events around Ukraine have triggered the mechanism of the global food crisis, which will hit Arab and African countries the hardest.

Algeria is no exception. Of course, the degree of its dependence on grain imports is not as great as, for example, Egypt. Nevertheless, any prolonged shortage of basic foodstuffs will inevitably undermine socio-political stability and revive the specter of the "Arab Spring", which the country's authorities have repeatedly coped with with such difficulty. To plunge once again into the abyss of mass riots will mean for Algeria to lose in the rivalry of Morocco. This is unacceptable for him. And, perhaps, the only thing that can protect him from this danger is the supply of Russian food at preferential prices.

Russia has already increased such supplies to Algeria more than twice last year. Probably, the consolidation and further development of this trend was discussed at the talks of the Algerian delegation at the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation at the end of March – about the same days when Blinken visited Algeria.

If this is the case, then Russia has every chance to actually become a guarantor of stability in the largest North African country and consolidate its presence in the Arab world, in the Mediterranean and on the African continent. As a result, Algeria may turn into a truly strategic ally of Moscow during a critical period of transition of the world system of relations to a new quality.