Algeria, a clear winner of the Ukraine war from boosted oil and gas sales, is looking to diversify its military spending and slowly wean itself off Russia. Although just recently announcing a huge deal with Russia, this oil rich north African country is playing a smart move by looking for new defence deals with European countries.
On December 5th, Algerian and Italian military officials agreed to deepen ties between their respective defence industries in a bilateral meeting signalling a turning point for Algeria which has always been traditionally entirely focused on Russia for defence procurement.
Italian officials said they were willing to support Algeria in any future acquisitions of Italian-made military hardware, which could also involve sharing of technology and industrial know-how, although no details were available as to what such cooperation could entail.
Agreements like this have become increasingly important for Algeria since Russia invaded Ukraine, reports Middle East Eye.
Between 2017 and 2021, more than 80 percent of weapons imports in Algeria came from Russia. This was followed by Germany at more than six percent and France at just under four percent.
There is, however, increasing pressure on Algeria from the West to stop or reduce imports of Russian weaponry as many powerful countries are worrying about Russia using its influence in Algeria to create tensions with Morocco. Recently a huge military build up on the Algerian Moroccan border caused panic in the West, following a mega arms deal signed with the Russians.
The planned exercises, which Russia would direct, provoked Morocco to send 50,000 troops to the border before western elites convinced the Algerians to scrap the plan.
The Algerians, for their part, are playing a very cool hand with the West, with the move to buy Italian arms, especially in that it will make it harder for the EU and US to impose sanctions on them.
Recently, In October, more than a dozen US lawmakers called for sanctions against Algeria over its continuing military trading with Russia.
That did not sway Algeria from planning joint military exercise with Russian armed forces for two weeks in November, the largest since the two countries established close relations during the Soviet period.
Zine Ghebouli, an Algeria analyst and postgraduate scholar at the University of Glasgow, said: “Given the role of the Algerian armed forces and geopolitical and regional situations, defence procurement – more than ever – is now seen as a priority.”
While the war in Ukraine has complicated Algeria’s relationship with Russia, the ensuing price increase of gas and oil has “significantly boosted the revenues” of Algiers, Ghebouli told Middle East Eye.
“This now allows more manoeuvring room for additional spending that was not possible before,” he said.
Algeria continues to benefit significantly from Russia’s stand-off with the West. The country’s oil and gas earnings are up more than 70 percent, reaching $21.5bn in the first five months of 2022, compared to $12.6bn in the same period last year.
Flush with cash, Algerian authorities have proposed to increase defence spending from $10bn in 2022 to $23 billion in 2023, a 130 percent increase.
But Algeria may find it difficult to wean itself off its Russian military habit, experts predict.
“Despite the efforts of Algerian authorities to drift away from the Russian defence industry, it may be hard to receive the same preferential treatment as Algerians enjoyed with Russians,” said Ghebouli.