The Algerian Ministry of Defence has revealed that a Russian ship from the Black Sea fleet made a stopover at the port of Algiers. According to the press release published on Facebook, the docking was part of the Algerian-Russian bilateral military cooperation programme. The Russian ship docked from August 27 to 29. During this stopover, the captain paid a courtesy call on the deputy commander of the Central Naval Front. A number of cultural and sporting activities were organised for the crew.
This is not the first Russian ship to dock at the port of Algiers. On 16 August 2023, the Hydrographic Ship KILDIN SSV-512, still belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, made a three-day stopover on the Algerian coast. This time it was the Russian missile corvette Mercury 734, the fifth ship in project 20380 built at the Severnaya shipyard.
Mercury 734 is a patrol ship for both near and far sea areas, but it has also been designed to combat enemy surface ships, submarines and aircraft. Construction of the Mercury 734 began in 2015 and was completed in 2020. However, it did not enter service until 2022.
Originating from Russia's Baltic ports, the Mercury 734 corvette saw its first commissioning this month. Several maritime analysts estimate that the Russian vessel left the Baltic around 12 August and entered the Mediterranean on the night of 18 to 19 August, accompanied by the Russian tanker Yelnya.
For the moment, it is difficult to determine the purpose of this Russian deployment in the Mediterranean. Belonging to the Black Sea fleet, it is likely that the corvette Mercury 734 is seeking to reach the Pontic basin. However, it should be remembered that the straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, controlled by Turkey in accordance with the Montreux Convention of 1936, have remained closed since the start of the war in Ukraine. It is therefore likely that Russian ships deployed in the Mediterranean will return to the port of Tartus in Syria, as could be the case with the Mercury 734 after its stopover in Algeria.
Bilateral military cooperation between Russia and Algeria
Relations between Russia and Algeria have gone from strength to strength since the start of the war in Ukraine. In July 2022, a detachment of warships from the Russian Black Sea Fleet visited Algeria. At the time, the Algerian Ministry of Defence said that the aim of the visit was “to strengthen bilateral relations in terms of military cooperation between our navies and the Russian navies, and to exchange experiences and strengthen joint coordination between the two armies”.
Moscow is the leading supplier of arms to Algeria, which was granted debt relief in 2006 in exchange for the purchase of an equivalent amount of Russian weapons. Numerous official visits between Russian and Algerian officials have taken place in recent years. The two countries have also conducted several joint military manoeuvres, including the Vostok exercises in September 2022. To date, the last Russian-Algerian meeting was held in Moscow between Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Algerian Lieutenant General Saïd Chengriha at the beginning of August. In mid-June, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune also paid an official working visit to Russia, culminating in the “declaration of an in-depth strategic partnership” between the two countries.
Russian-Algerian rapprochement worries the West
In a recent article, the Al Arab media asked about “the exaggerated approach of Algerian leaders towards Russia”. Indeed, the repeated stopping of Russian ships off the Algerian coast is increasingly worrying the West.
“If an agreement to buy arms from Russia can be reached, the frequency of Russian military ships to Algerian ports cannot be understood by the West in the light of Russia's growing role in the western Mediterranean and the expansion of Russia and the Wagner military group loyal to it in the Sahel and Sahara region”, writes Al Arab.
Observers believe that Algeria's leaders are unaware of the developments taking place around them, particularly the fact that this rapprochement will increase Western pressure. In the United States in particular, several members of the American Congress had called on the Biden administration to include Algeria in the category of countries hostile to American interests and to impose sanctions. Moscow and Algiers are said to have signed an arms contract worth around 11 billion dollars. Thanks to this revenue, Russia would be in a position to counter the sanctions imposed by the West.
On the European side, EU countries are becoming increasingly cautious about Algerian initiatives for fear of creating a danger on their southern borders. Europe had already begun to distance itself from Algiers when the latter sought to use gas as a means of exerting pressure on Spain over its position on the Sahara question.
This Russian-Algerian rapprochement is all the more worrying for Western countries since, on 21 August, two Italian demining ships, the “ITS STROMNOLI A 5327” and the “ITS NUMANA A 5557”, docked at the port of Algiers as part of the bilateral military cooperation programme between Algeria and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).