Unlike Europe, Russia did not leave a colonial imprint on the Arab world. Moreover, it was Moscow that in the previous century was actively involved in decolonization, in freeing many Arab states from their previous political and economic dependence on the West, in creating their own economies and policies independent of Europe. Russian-Arab cooperation received a boost in 2000, when Vladimir Putin came to power. Relations with Iraq, Algeria and Syria began to develop actively, and Moscow has adopted a balanced position on the Palestinian question, in contrast to Western countries, which in recent decades have emphasized unilateral support for Israel.
That is why the Arab states, which are openly interested in the birth of the multipolar world order, are eager today to develop relations and cooperate in various fields with Russia. Russia is also extending its arms towards the Arab world, realizing that mutual interests lie in the field of economy and security, Rai Al Youm says. Moreover, interaction is based on mutual respect, not the cowboy culture that has dominated relations with the West in recent years. Meanwhile, the Arabs are aware that they also must take the lead in building a strategic relationship with the growing Russian-Chinese axis, and a number of countries in the Arab world have already begun to conclude an increasing number of economic partnership agreements with Moscow and Beijing. Among them are Algeria, Kuwait and Iran, and there is no doubt that common interests are at the forefront of the process. This interaction is based on mutual respect rather than the hegemony of one side, as has been practiced in the past and is still practiced by a number of Western powers today.
A striking example of the progressive development of relations is the recent contacts between Algeria and Moscow, which have been very active and fruitful in developing trade, economic, political and strategic cooperation. Algeria is one of Russia’s top three trading partners in Africa. It maintains neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine crisis and has stated the willingness of the League of Arab States (LAS) to serve as a platform for talks between Moscow and Kiev.
The gas crisis in Europe and Russia’s special operation to denazify Ukraine have further drawn international attention to Algeria of late. The US, France, Italy and Germany have become active in the search for alternatives to Russian gas, with a particular focus on Algeria, while also pursuing another explicit objective: to achieve, through Algerian acceptance of Western proposals, damage to Russian-Algerian relations. But despite all the material benefits Algeria could receive from Europe seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, Algeria has refused such Western insistence on offsetting Russian gas supplies, choosing not to betray its ally since the Soviet Union and not to stab it in the back.
Today, bilateral relations between Algeria and Moscow continue to strengthen. The Declaration on Strategic Partnership, signed on April 4, 2001, has promoted political dialogue and cooperation ever since. However, the sides are in the process of preparing a new such document, which will reflect the “new quality of bilateral relations,” as Algerian Ambassador to Russia Smail Benamara said on the sidelines of the XIII International Economic Summit “Russia – Islamic World: Kazansummit 2022” on May 20. According to him, the document is likely to be signed during the visit of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to Russia in the near future, following an invitation already extended by President Putin. As the Algerian diplomat underlined, the current ties, for example in the military and technical field, are very long and deep, and it is not only arms procurement, but also exercises, cooperation and information exchange.
In an interview with Izvestia on May 11, the Russian ambassador to Algeria, Igor Belyaev, also told about the intense political dialogue between the two countries, which is developing an ascendant relationship. “Our leaders are exchanging messages, making phone calls. Most recently, on April 18, Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Abdelmadjid Tebboune,” the diplomat said. Belyaev stressed that Russia and Algeria have many themes for interaction, and that the countries’ positions on various international and regional problems coincide.
As Al-Quds Al-Arabi noted, relations with Moscow are very important for Algeria, which is the third largest importer of Russian arms in the world. It buys fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, tanks, air defense systems and submarines (which now total six). Algeria also buys more than half of the wheat from Russia.
However, it is not just about arms and wheat, but also about the position of the US and Europe (especially the Spanish government) on the Algerian-Moroccan conflict over Western Sahara, because of which the Algerian authorities have many reasons to be unhappy with Western diplomacy.
In addition, bilateral cooperation in the oil and gas sector has been developing successfully: in September 2021 Algeria and Russia’s Gazprom signed an agreement to develop full-scale cooperation in the exploration, production, transport, processing and sale of hydrocarbons. They are jointly developing the El Assel site in Algeria. The field is expected to be commissioned in 2025.
On May 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a working visit to Algeria during which several new arms deals were announced, including the purchase by Algeria of advanced Russian weaponry, including Su-35 fighter jets. It should be recalled that the strategic partnership between Moscow and Algeria has led to the cancellation of more than 50% of arms deals from the United States.
In addition to the Russian foreign minister, a Russian delegation headed by Viktor Bondarev, chairman of the Federation Council defense committee, also visited Algeria recently. During this trip, he met with Ramtan Lamamra, Algeria’s foreign minister, and Mohamed Salah bin Bisha, secretary-general of the Ministry of Defense. An agreement was reached to intensify bilateral security cooperation, discussing the development and strengthening of bilateral cooperation on the basis of agreements signed earlier between the upper houses of parliaments – the Council of the Nation of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria and the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.