Military exercises between Algeria and Russia are creating concerns in Europe and the US as the growing military ties between Moscow and Algiers are seen as a threat to Western security interests, following reports of military activity in this North African satellite of Moscow’s.
The drills, which are “the first Algerian-Russian joint military exercises on Algerian soil”, have sparked “Western concerns over Moscow’s deepening ties with the North African nation that is a key energy supplier for Europe,” Bloomberg reported on November 16th.
The new drills were preceded by talks in Algiers earlier this month with the director of Russia’s Federal Service of Military and Technical Cooperation, Dimitrii Chougaev.
Algeria, one of the world’s top arms importers, has allocated a $23 billion defence budget for the fiscal year 2023. Moscow wants to be the recipient of a large share of Algerian military orders this year and just signed a massive procurement contract, reported by Maghrebi.org.
The worry for the West is the geostrategic interests that Russia has in the region as, analysts argue that the drills are about Putin flexing his muscles, bringing the Ukraine war to the doorsteps of those who are trying their best to stay out of it, namely Morocco which is in conflict with Algeria over the disputed region of Western Sahara which the former controls.
The tactic is a deft one as Algeria is in the midst of upping its oil and gas supplies to Europe and so could be a second location to pressurise EU leaders into giving into peace demands laid out when peace talks begin over Ukraine.
The location of the exercises on the fringes of sub-Saharan Africa is another source of concern for the West, as it highlights Algeria’s cooperation with Russia as it endeavours to enlarge its footprint in West Africa and the Sahel.
Then there is Algeria’s immediate neighbourhood. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the exercises “are not directed against third parties and were planned beforehand”. The Russian military also asserted the drills “are tactical and aimed at searching for, detecting and destroying illegal armed groups”.
It’s important for the Russians to make this point, following a mega deal Moscow just signed with Morocco to build nuclear power plants in the Kingdom.
Experts see the Russian deployment of troops not far from the Moroccan border as a clearly provocative message destined for Rabat, which could jeopardize the deal.
From a wider strategic perspective, the exercises transform the Moroccan Algerian border into a new demarcation line between western and Russian areas of influence, according to Bloomberg.
Algeria is likely to face mounting hostility in US Capitol Hill to its military cosiness with Moscow.
A bipartisan group of 27 members of Congress, led by Republican Congresswoman Lisa McClain, have already asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, last September, to impose sanctions against Algeria because of its military cooperation with Moscow under Section 213 of the 2017-Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which penalises countries that establish defence or intelligence agreements with Russia.
“This recent Algeria-Russia arms purchase would clearly be categorised as ‘a significant transaction’ under CAATSA. Yet, no sanctions available to you have been crafted by the State Department,” said the letter to Blinken.
“The United States needs to send a clear message to the world that the support for Vladimir Putin, and his regime’s barbaric war efforts will not be tolerated,” added 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.”
However, Washington appears to be deeply divided when it comes to Algeria and it was Blinken himself who recently travelled to the Algerian capital in a bid to woe its elite to come in from the cold and come closer to the West. His actions though have largely backfired, pushing Algeria even closer to Russia, underlined by an unprecedented arms deal between Moscow and Algiers signed recently.