Just when you thought the Ukraine war couldn’t get more complicated, Morocco, enjoying the media spotlight from its incredible performance in the World Cup, throws a spanner in the works.
According to reports in a French language on line African bulletin, Morocco is set to break its perceived neutrality over the conflict in Ukraine, becoming the first African country to provide military support to Kyiv, albeit on a very small scale.
According to a report by Le Journal de l’Afrique, at the request of the US, the Moroccan government has agreed to transfer spare parts for T-72 tanks to the Ukrainian military. The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces have several dozen T-72B/BK-type tanks purchased from Belarus between 1999 and 2001. As a mark of how desperate arming Ukraine has become due to western military stocks being depleted at a record pace, the Biden administration appears to be scraping the barrel with these latest demands for tank parts. The subject of tanks is a controversial one as Biden has refused to send them – along with long range missiles – to the Ukraine and Germany did a U-turn in September on its decision send its own Leopard variants through fears of escalating the war there.
Initially Rabat sought to maintain neutrality over the war in Ukraine and absented itself in March from the UN General Assembly vote on condemning Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, along with a number of African countries who want to affirm their positions of ‘non aligned’ in the conflict which is polarizing the world into two camps.
Yet, the war in Ukraine, despite media reports to the contrary, is not going well as many analysts fear that the West can’t play the long game which Russia is banking on. Also, most western countries have such depleted military stocks that they fear being vulnerable themselves (which has forced them to scale back on donations), as well as a general scaling down of military aid from EU partners which has hit Ukraine hard as it battles with electricity outages.
Congress is expected to pass a bill to give Ukraine 44 bn dollars in aid, half of which will be for military hardware, but analysts argue it may well be the last tranche as Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January.
And so, as a major strategic ally of the US, the White House has exerted pressure on Morocco to adopt a clear position on the conflict and to take a side. In April, Morocco participated in a summit on defending Ukraine held in Germany, chaired by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. The following month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Morocco’s neighbouring rival, Algeria, to discuss the conflict in Ukraine and strengthen existing relations.
As far as sending or receiving parts to or from Ukraine, there is also some history to consider. It wouldn’t be the first time that the kingdom has cooperated militarily with Ukraine. In July 2015, the Ukrainian state-owned arms supplier Ukroboronservice asked Morocco for spare parts for its T-72 tanks.
Military Africa also reports that in addition to the provision of spare parts, Moroccan T-72B battle tanks are being modernised by Czech company Excalibur Army, to be diverted to Ukraine as part of a $97 million deal covered by the US and the Netherlands.
The move though may well be received as a provocation from Morocco’s neighbour Algeria which was recently convinced by western leaders to halt its planned military exercises on its border with Morocco – and is itself seen to be a key servile player of Russia’s with many analysts arguing that Algeria’s days of being “neutral” are also numbered.