Algeria is a key partner for Moscow in the region. However, it must also maintain energy agreements with Europe

Amid Ukraine war, Lavrov travels to Algiers to reaffirm Russian-Algerian alliance

AFP/ MAXIM SHEMETOV - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on 16 March 2022.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is seeking to strengthen its relations with strategic allies, as well as to seek new support from the bloc formed by the United States and the European Union. To this end, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has travelled to Algeria to meet with his counterpart, Ramtane Lamamra, and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

In addition to maintaining the partnership with Algiers and reaffirming alliances in the current context, Lavrov will discuss with the Algerian authorities the situation in Libya, the Sahel, the Sahara and Syria, as well as the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, terrorism and the evolution of the world oil situation, according to the Algerian media L'Expression. The visit was announced on 5 April in Moscow, when the Algerian minister visited the Russian capital as part of an Arab League mission. "I hope to visit Algeria in the near future," Lavrov declared at the time. The last time the Russian diplomat travelled to the North African country was in 2019

AFP/ODD ANDERSEN  -   Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de la República de Argelia

Algeria, one of Russia's main partners in North Africa, abstained in the vote at the United Nations condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Similarly, it voted against suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, making it the only Maghreb country to support Russia in this regard. However, Lamamra has also been in contact with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba. The two ministers spoke on the phone "as part of Algeria's efforts to find a political solution to the crisis", reports L'Expression.

Despite the conflict in Ukraine, Algiers seeks to maintain its historic relationship with Moscow, one of its main arms suppliers. Ties between the two nations were forged even before Algeria gained its independence from France. According to Algerian political journalist Akram Kharief quoted by New Defense Order Strategy, in 1959, during the war of independence, Moscow trained hundreds of young officers of the National Liberation Army. Once self-determination was achieved, Algiers and Moscow have developed their cooperation in different areas, not only in the military, but also in education, culture and trade

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Una foto de archivo muestra soldados argelinos haciendo guardia en la planta de gas de Tiguentourine en In Amenas, a 1600 km al sureste de Argel

Lavrov's visit to Algeria comes amid the war in Ukraine and rising tensions between Moscow and NATO. The Russian minister also arrives in the country a month after the two nations conducted military manoeuvres on the border with Morocco. In April, Tebboune and Russian President Vladimir Putin also held a phone call to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. During the conversation, the presidents 'expressed their satisfaction with the development of bilateral cooperation in all fields', reports Alquds Alarabi.

According to the Algerian presidency, Tebboune and Putin "exchanged views on the international situation, in the light of developments in the terrible situation in occupied Palestine, especially the violation of the sanctity of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem, as well as the Ukraine Crisis".

AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI - El presidente argelino Abdelmadjid Tebboune

However, Algeria must also take care of its relations with certain European countries with which it has energy agreements. In this sense, as Al-Arab points out, Lavrov's visit 'will put more pressure on Algeria, which finds itself in a dilemma between its commitment to its traditional alliance with Russia and its need for revenues from gas exports to Europe'. The Arabic daily suggests that the Russian minister should ask Algiers for 'a clearer position', going so far as to urge it to cancel its energy commitments to Europe. 

PHOTO/REUTERS - Sede de la empresa estatal de energía Sonatrach en Argel

Algeria has recently reached an agreement with Italy whereby it could also 'supply Europe with additional quantities of gas in the event of a reduction in Russian exports', according to Tawfiq Hakkar, chairman and CEO of Sonatrach Oil Company, as quoted by Al-Arab. However, the head of the Algerian oil company, in earlier statements to the Algerian Press Service, said that Algeria cannot currently be an alternative supplier of Russian gas to European partners. Still, as Al-Arab claims, Algeria wants to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis to earn additional revenues for the state treasury. 

PHOTO/ Presidencia argelina vía AP  -   El primer ministro italiano, Mario Draghi, ha asegurado un acuerdo para aumentar las importaciones de gas natural a través de un gasoducto mediterráneo desde Argelia, lo que supone el último impulso de un país de la Unión Europea para reducir la dependencia de la energía rusa tras su invasión de Ucrania
Russia in North Africa

Before Algiers, Lavrov already sought support in other capitals such as New Delhi and Beijing, where he announced 'a new multipolar, just and democratic world order'. Asia is a key region for Russia in economic and trade terms. Sanctions imposed from the West, as well as the Russian oil embargo being considered in Brussels, have caused Russia to diversify its exports, strengthening and creating routes to Asia.

However, North Africa is also a key area for Russia, especially as Moscow seeks to gain influence in the Sahel region to the detriment of other European countries such as France. In recent years, Russia has strengthened its presence in the Maghreb in places such as Libya through its support for Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

PHOTO/ Servicio de Prensa del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Rusia vía AP  -   El Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Rusia, Sergey Lavrov, con el presidente del parlamento de Libia, Aguila Saleh, durante sus conversaciones en Moscú, Rusia, el martes 24 de noviembre de 2020

Egypt, which since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine has tried to maintain a neutral stance to protect its interests, is another relevant point for Moscow. "Russia sees Egypt as a strategic partner in the Middle East. Both countries are interested in preserving and consolidating their ties," Soraya al-Farra, a professor of political science at Moscow University, tells Al Monitor.

AFP PHOTO / Russian Foreign Ministry  El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Rusia, Sergei Lavrov, y el presidente de Egipto, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, en El Cairo el 12 de abril de 2021

In late April, a Russian delegation travelled to the country to inspect work on the El Dabaa nuclear power plant, a project resulting from an agreement signed in 2015 between Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation and Cairo. The war in Ukraine has not dampened energy cooperation between Egypt and Russia, demonstrating that the two countries "are working together to accelerate the implementation of the project regardless of the current political circumstances", as former deputy director of Egypt's Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) Ali Abdel Nabi highlights to Al Monitor.

For Russia, this visit to the Egyptian coastal city also sends a message to the world that its economic cooperation with friendly countries continues, Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, tells the website. "It is also a message to the United States that affirms the partnership between Egypt and Russia," he adds.