Increasing military cooperation between Russian and Algeria worries the West

Russia is stepping up military cooperation with Algeria to compensate for the economic losses due to the sanctions adopted for its war against Ukraine. Algeria is now discussing a ten-year contract for the purchase of Russian weapons.

On the other hand, Algeria is actively gaining from Europe’s increased focus on its energy resources, particularly from Italy and France, related to the reduction of Russian energy supplies due to the war and economic sanctions against Moscow.

In the UN, Algeria abstained from the condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Algeria abstained from voting on the United Nations resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the all-out war on March 2. Overall, Algeria abstained twice in 2022 from voting on UN resolutions denouncing Russia’s war against Ukraine and the annexation of captured territories by Moscow, along with nations like Cuba and China. 

Russia, on the other hand, has chosen to take a neutral stance in the conflict over Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory that Morocco claims conflicts with the Polisario Front, which is backed by Algeria.

Bilateral meetings over military cooperation

Moscow and Algeria have maintained a strong military and foreign policy ties. Thus, discussions about military collaboration took place on November 10 between Maj. Gen. Said Chengriha, the Algerian army’s chief of staff, and Dmitry Shugaev, the head of Russia’s federal service for military-technical cooperation. 

The Algerian president’s trip to Moscow is actively being planned, according to Algeria’s foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra, who stated this on November 11. The Algerian side expects to have it completed by the end of 2022.

The Algerian government aims at buying more weapons

The Algerian government aims to double the military budget with the money it has gained from the sharp rise in natural gas prices on the international market. However, it is uncertain whether the majority of these funds would be utilized to purchase weapons from Russia. 

Algeria has already acquired the first battery of a Chinese YJ-12E mobile coastal missile system, in addition to the purchase of Chinese and now Turkish combat drones. Some reports claim that this Chinese missile system was acquired instead of the previously intended purchase of the Russian 3K55 Bastion missile battalion.

On the other hand, according to Russian sources, Algeria imports close to 80% of its weapons from Russia and is the third-largest importer of such weapons after India and China.

Algeria discusses a 10-year contract to buy Russian weapons

Algeria is thinking about signing a new, 10-years-long arms contract with Russia that could be valued at up to $17 billion. It would include the acquisition of submarines, Su-57 fighters, and other combat aircraft, as well as modern air-defense systems like the S-400. The Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune may finalize the deal during his visit to Moscow soon, according to a report, which cited the Paris-based newspaper Africa Intelligence.

Since the Russian army is experiencing significant losses in its ground military equipment in the war against Ukraine, Moscow urgently needs to replace it to maintain its defense capabilities as it’s running out of weapons. So, it is unclear in the medium term if Russian weapons manufacturers will cope with the internal maintenance and new international orders at the same time. It is still likely that Algeria, a long-time significant importer of Russian military hardware, will decide to enhance its weapon imports from China or even the West.

Algeria and Russia joint military exercises

In September, Algeria took part in the Vostok 2022 military exercise held in the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan as well as training facilities in the east of Russia. According to data provided by the Algerian defense ministry, the Algerian army contributed at least 100 of the 50,000 ground forces who were deployed. 

In October, Algeria and Russia conducted a four-day joint military drill in the Mediterranean Sea. To take part in the joint naval exercise, several Russian fleet warships came to the port of Algiers. The EU responded, saying it’s ‘deeply concerned by the military cooperation of Algeria and Russia “in the wake of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and a context of an insecurity in the Sahara region”.

On November 15, Russia and Algeria began their first combined military drills on Algerian soil, raising fears in the West about Moscow’s growing links to the important energy supply for Europe, Bloomberg reported. The military drill called “Desert Shield” started in the Bechar region of western Algeria. 

Over 200 soldiers, half of whom are Russian and half of whom are Algerian, have been deployed. The thinly populated Bechar province is close to Algeria’s border with longtime foe Morocco. It’s the first time this type of land military drill is carried out in Algeria. It is a sign that military cooperation between the two countries is advancing quickly.

Algeria requested to join BRICS,

Algeria officially requested to join BRICS, a group made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that serves as an alternative to Western integration platforms, on November 7. Due to the war in Ukraine and the interruption of supply chains, interest in the BRICS organization is primarily driven by relations with China.

Europe strengthened economic ties with Algeria 

Algeria, an OPEC member in the Mediterranean, has been in the spotlight of global diplomacy this year as Europe searches for suppliers for replacement of Russian natural gas and oil imports as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

Leaders from France, Spain, and Italy have made trips to Algiers during 2022 to secure or increase exports. So, Algeria is seen as an alternative to Russia, as a replacement for Russian supplies in the energy market. However, while Algeria strengthens economic ties with Europe, it is simultaneously stepping up its military engagement with Russia.

So, the war between Russia and Ukraine and tensions between Moscow and the West continue to be profitable for Algeria. Sonatrach, the Algerian state-owned oil and gas corporation, reported revenue of $21.5 billion in the first five months of 2022, up from $12.6 billion in the same period of 2021.

Why does Algeria turn to Russia?

There are various justifications for Algeria’s decision to collaborate with Russia. First, there is the extremely tense situation between Algeria and Morocco, its neighbor, and Algiers aims at enhancing its army. The dispute between the two nations centers on the status of the desert region of Western Sahara, which has not been resolved in almost 50 years. 

Morocco sees this territory as its own. Algeria backs the Polisario Front, which seeks to declare Western Sahara independent. Therefore, Algeria is sending a message to Morocco by conducting military exercises 50 km from its border. And it heats tensions in the area.

Algiers and Moscow have had a historical partnership since the Soviet Union. And now Algeria relies on it to achieve its diplomatic goal – become a member of BRICS. Thanks to its oil and gas reserves, Algeria is in a strong position during the current energy crisis caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine and it tries to make the most of it. 

Members of the European Parliament urge the EU to react to Algeria’s military relations with Moscow

A group of 17 MEPs urged European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to re-open the EU’s association agreement with Algeria. They shared a letter that expresses ‘deep concern’ at Algeria’s close political and military ties to Russia, Euractive reported.

The 2005 EU association agreement with Algeria addresses political ties as well as tariff-free trade.

The EU MPs expressed concern that Algeria’s government is “among the top four consumers of Russian weaponry in the world, culminating in a more than €7 billion arms agreement in 2021.” They emphasized that Algeria has become the third-largest receiver of Russian weapons in the world. 

The group of members of the European Parliament also criticized Algeria’s decision to abstain from voting on a United Nations resolution denouncing Russia’s attempt to annex captured territories in Ukraine. They called this action “astonishing” given that Algeria has consistently tried to uphold international law and respect national sovereignty. However, it appears that Algeria has double standards.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strained the EU’s relationship with Algiers and forced several EU governments to look for alternative natural gas suppliers, with Algeria among the top destinations.

The US government is worried too

The US is also unhappy about the cooperation between Russia and Algeria. The Biden administration was encouraged in a letter signed by 27 Democrats and Republicans to use the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act to impose sanctions on Algeria’s acquisition of Russian weapons, Bloomberg reported

Sanctions can be imposed by the US government on states, organizations, or individuals who have “a major transaction with a person that is part of or acts for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation” under CAATSA. This move could dissuade Algiers from a too close collaboration with the Russian regime which is nearing a collapse due to defeats on the battlefields in Ukraine, harsh economic sanctions, and further isolation. 

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