Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has had global repercussions, not least in Africa.
It has brought home to Western policymakers the need to counter Russian policy in Africa, which has shown surprising tolerance of Russian policy. It has also brought to light the need to find alternatives to Russian gas and oil, and the urgency of getting grain from Russia and Ukraine through the Black Sea to key consumers in the Middle East and Africa, who might otherwise go hungry. Thanks to all this, African countries that have abundant energy supplies, such as Algeria, now figure prominently in the new scramble for Africa.
Algeria is leveraging its new strategic importance. On the one hand, it has signed major energy contracts with Italy. On the other hand, it has suspended cooperation with Spain after Madrid announced support for Morocco instead of Algeria in disputes over the Western Sahara. Its relations with France are equally tense. It seems clear that Algeria will deploy its energy advantage to get its way in the dispute with Morocco, a staunch ally of the U.S., and now, a buyer of Israeli arms. Consequently, Algeria has befriended Iran and one news article discussing its foreign policy characterized its official stance as “hatred toward Israel.”
This kind of regional challenge is made to order for Moscow, which has steadily upgraded ties with Algeria for several years by exploiting the Western Sahara conflict. Indeed, the exploitation of such ethno-territorial rivalries is a longstanding Russian tradition.
The Kremlin has long been pursuing energy and arms deals with Algeria. Their militaries have recently conducted joint exercises on the border with Morocco to “search for, detect and eliminate” “illegal” groups.
More recently, Putin invited Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to Russia for the annual St. Petersburg international economic forum. While both governments discussed their historical relations and how to improve trade, investment and economic ties, they also sought ways to conduct a mutual information exchange between their intelligence services and joint exploration for energy projects. Indeed, Putin told Tebboune that Algeria is one of Russia’s top three partners in Africa.
Putin did not speak out of the blue. Algeria has sought to finance part of the Russia-Mali agreement paving the way for the Wagner force deployment there since 2021. Reportedly, official Algerian figures show that Algeria is Russia’s second-largest trading partner in Africa. Algeria also is the third biggest importer of Russian weapons in the world, and Russian weapons and military systems constitute more than 50 percent of Algeria’s arsenal.
Economically, Algeria has increased imports of wheat and soybean oil from Russia and is likely to have discussed new agricultural deals during Tebboune’s visit.
Algeria’s growing partnership with Russia has, however, raised the ire of Western governments. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has recently demanded that Algeria denounce Russia as an aggressor against Ukraine. Similarly, a bipartisan congressional letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2022 called for sanctions on Algeria because of its arms deals with Russia. Likewise, Sen. Mario Rubio (R-Fla.) called for action against Algeria.
Moscow’s inroads into Algeria and through it into the Sahel have given it opportunities not only to advance its anti-Western agenda in Africa but also to claim that it has more international support than it actually does for its war against Ukraine. Its overall offensive into Africa also highlights the unjustified Western neglect of Africa and African interests over many years. Thus, it is no surprise that Western governments are now playing catch-up on the continent. But apart from acting more resolutely on African issues and taking African interests into account, we need much more vigilant diplomacy.Three hopeful signs for DemocratsThe environmental impacts of war
Ultimately, Moscow’s objectives in Algeria and elsewhere in Africa translate into a quest for naval or air bases throughout the Mediterranean Sea and adjoining waters, not excluding Algeria. Apart from enhancing Russian influence in host countries, their purpose would be to deter NATO, not only in the Black Sea but also in the Mediterranean and beyond. For instance, in his travels to Angola and Eritrea earlier this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explicitly discussed naval bases in these countries, clearly aiming to threaten Western interests in international waters.
Algeria’s comity with Russia does not only threaten regional conflicts in North Africa but its military dimension opens to a vista embracing international security threats to Europe and beyond. More attention must be paid to Europe’s Southern region and Africa because increasingly, what happens in Africa does not stay in Africa.
Source : THEHILL