Growing military ties between Russia and Algeria, a North African country, have been threatening the geopolitical interests of the West and overall stability in Africa.
According to the middle-east-online.com news portal, Algeria has been intensifying its joint military exercises with Russia this year.
The anti-terrorism drills, Desert Shield 2022, which involves 200 soldiers from both the Algerian military and Russian armed forces, are in progress from Nov.16 to 28, 2022, in Algeria’s Hammaguir military base, located in the southwestern province of Bechar. The base is about 50 kilometers from the Moroccan border.
Observers consider the drills as being the largest ever conducted since Algeria and Russia established military cooperation during the Soviet Union period. During the exercise, both countries’ forces will practice search, detection, and elimination of terrorist groups in the desert.
“The exercises confirm the depth of the strategic partnership between Moscow and Algeria,” Algerian Parliamentary Vice Speaker Bouteldja Allel told Russian news agency Sputnik recently. He said that the annual military exercises are a great way for both countries to exchange their latest methods.
“Algeria acquires Russian weapons on a regular basis and in large quantities,” he told Sputnik. “The drills are also an extremely important part of the strategic cooperation between the two countries.”
Moreover, he emphasized the high level of mutual communication between the presidents of both countries, namely Vladimir Putin and Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
Algeria is becoming the world’s largest importer of Russian arms. According to the Algerian press, a huge contract valued at over $11 billion is being prepared. Sputnik described Algeria as a “strategic ally” and “friend partner” to Russia.
The Algerian military recently invited the Director of the Federal Service of Military Technical Cooperation of Russia, Dimitrii Chougaev, to Algeria. The Algerian People’s National Army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Said Chengriha, met with Dimitrii in Algiers on Nov. 10, 2022, to boost defense ties between the two countries.
“In the context of the implementation of the Algeria-Russia bilateral military cooperation program, General Said Chengriha received, at the Chief of Staff headquarters of the Algerian People’s National Army, Shugayev Dmitriy Evgenievich, Director of the Federal Service of Military Technical Cooperation of the Russian Federation, in the presence of major generals and brigadier generals from the Ministry of National Defense and the People’s National Army besides the ambassador of the Russian Federation in Algeria,” the Middle East Monitor website reported the Algerian Ministry of Defense as saying in a statement. “This meeting allowed the two parties to discuss bilateral military cooperation and ways to diversify it to include areas of mutual interest.”
Dimitrii’s visit to Algeria can be seen in the backdrop of the 120 percent increase in Algeria’s defense budget from $10 billion in 2022 to $23 billion in 2023. The Moroccan media shared that the huge increase in Algeria’s defense budget could turn the region into a “powder keg”.
During the last few years, Algeria and Russia have been increasing cooperation in defense sector. In November 2021, the two countries held joint military exercises in South Ossetia, a breakaway part of Georgia. In September 2022, 100 Algerian soldiers took part in the VOSTOK 2022 military exercise in the Far East of Russia. Naval military exercises have been regularly carried out between both countries’ forces in the last two years.
Meanwhile, a group of 17 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called on European Commission Chief, Ursula von der Leyen, to re-open the European Union’s association agreement with Algeria in a letter which expresses “deep concern” at Algeria’s close political and economic relations to Russia.
Algeria’s regime is “among the top four buyers of Russian arms worldwide, culminating with a more than €7 billion (US$7.17 billion) arms deal in 2021,” the middle-east-online.com reported quoting MEPs as saying.
The letter also criticized Algeria’s decision to abstain on a United Nations resolution censuring Russia’s attempts to annex Ukrainian regions.
“However, it seems that is all about Algerian double standards,” said the letter.
Algeria abstained twice this year from voting on UN resolutions condemning the war in Ukraine and refused to criticize Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukrainian territory. In turn, Russia opted for a neutral stance regarding the dispute over Western Sahara.
Western Sahara is a Moroccan territory. Algeria supports Polisario, a small armed rebel group that wants to establish a separate Western Sahara state. Algeria provides its Tindouf area for Western Sahara refugee camps and gives financial assistance and military support to Polisario rebels.
Polisario engages in many terror activities. It is strange to see Algeria, which supports terror acts of Polisario, to conduct counterterrorism drills with Russia.
The Moroccan-Algerian border has currently become a new hotspot of geostrategic influence between the West and Russia. In September 2022, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the military exercises with Algeria “are routine and are not aimed against any third country”.
However, security experts see Russia’s joint military exercises with Algeria as a provocative move aimed at Morocco, which has, earlier this year, held joint “African Lion” military drills with the US Army on its soil close to the Algerian border.
In September, a letter signed by 27 American Democrats and Republicans called on the Biden administration to use the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to punish Algeria for the purchase of Russian arms.
CAATSA allows the US government to impose sanctions on those who engage in “a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of Russian Federation”.
“This recent Algeria-Russia arms purchase would clearly be categorized as ‘a significant transaction’ under CAATSA. Yet, no sanctions available to you have been crafted by the State Department,” said the letter addressed to Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.
“The United States needs to send a clear message to the world that support for Vladimir Putin, and his regime’s barbaric war efforts, will not be tolerated,” said the letter. “Therefore, we request you begin to immediately implement significant sanctions on those in the Algerian government who were involved in the purchase of Russian arms,” the letter added.
The unbreakable geopolitical relationship between Algeria and Russia places Algiers in the pro-Russian clan. Consequently, Russia considers Algeria to be an extended front in its strategy of military confrontation with the West. Russia will resort to this front for its striking force to maintain a close range, which tenders the Algeria-Moroccan border a demarcation line between the zone of Western influence and that of the former socialist clan.
Algeria’s alignment with Russia harms the geopolitical interests of the West. There is an urgent need for countries of the West to review their strategies and partnerships with Algeria. It is a great danger for Africa and the West if Algeria continuously provides space to Russia’s military presence in the region.