Russia’s war on Ukraine is having significant repercussions in the four corners of the world, where the confrontation between Moscow and the West is dictating the agenda, forcing members of the international community to pick sides. This brand-new international context is nothing less than a Cold War 2.0, a re-edition of the state of tensions that informed international relations in the bipolar world post-1945. Despite significant differences (the main being the multipolar order of our age, which must necessarily take into account the rise of powers such as China and India), striking similarities are emerging, including the countless shades of grey between the black and white commonly used to summarise the conflict in Ukraine. Moving away from this Western centric approach, the Maghreb certainly offers the full spectrum of non-alignment that in the last century had made Algiers the third world capital, to quote author Elaine Mokhtefi.
Foreign dignitaries have increasingly been seen in the Ville Blanche in recent months, some of them driven by the necessity to diversify energy supplies. Overall, Algeria’s plans to become Europe’s main energy hub suffer from structural challenges, including the ongoing rift with Morocco. In late March, the visit of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, part of a regional tour that also included Rabat, was intended to remove significant obstacles to that end, following the closure of the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline (MEGP) that fell victim to the Maghreb spat late last year. To no avail, apparently, as Algeria remains wary of Washington’s support for Morocco on the Western Sahara, among other things.
More in general, Algeria has been careful in navigating the divisive landscape post-Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cultivating relations with both Moscow and the West. This balancing act became particularly clear in May when the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was immediately followed by the short stay in Algiers of Lt.-Gen. Hans-Werner Wiermann, Director of the General International Military Staff at NATO. During the talks, which also touched upon bilateral cooperation, Maj.-Gen. Saïd Chengriha, chief of staff of the Algerian army, reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a neutralist policy, which is increasingly seen as a common trait in the region and beyond.
The Bandung spectre, pertinently revived by some authors, is not only haunting the Maghreb but has extending ramifications that well describe the fluidity of the regional geopolitics. Before heading to Italy to reinforce the bilateral partnership in the energy sector, Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune was also in Turkey, which has also taken a pragmatic stance during the conflict in Ukraine, offering its good offices to both sides and reaping the benefits of its ambivalence. Both visits could be seen as an indication of an increasingly pro-active foreign policy to consolidate Algeria’s status and centrality, with a view on a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council in 2023-2024. However, Tebboune’s visit to Ankara certainly draws more attention as it shows that, despite the détente remaining the leitmotif in the region for the time being, the convergence between Algiers and Ankara could potentially become structural, facilitated by a common anti-normalisation stance.
Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region