The three-day visit to Russia of President Abdelmajid Tebboune, where he also took part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum from the 14th to the 17th of June, did not alter the fundamentals of Algeria’s foreign policy, which sticked to its neutralist stance reinforced ever since the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine back last year.
While confirming the long-standing ties between Algiers and Moscow that go back to the Cold War era, the meeting certainly offered a public diplomacy opportunity to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, able to momentarily weaken the perception of his international isolation.
At the same time the encounter showed the agility with which actors in the Global South navigate the challenging and polarised landscape that characterises the world today. The declaration signed by the two leaders on the sidelines of the Algeria-Russia Economic Forum held in Moscow build upon the strategic partnership agreement that dates back to 2001, enlarging the domains of cooperation that most importantly touch upon defence procurement.
In this context, it is worth noting that Russia represented 73% of Algeria’s total arms imports in 2018-2022, continuing to play a pivotal role for the defence industry of the Maghreb country despite the rise in the past few years of old and new suppliers like China and Germany.
Nevertheless, the most recent declaration did not provide major development on this issue, despite rumours late last year about negotiations for an important arms sale worth US$ 12-17 billion and including Sukhoi Su-57 Felon stealth aircraft, bombers and fighters. Equipment and weapons that Moscow mostly need in Ukraine right now, raising doubts about its production and export capacity in the short to medium term.
For this reason, Algeria’s return to Moscow is most likely to yield some tangible results in other domains, including the oil sector, where the Algerian government is trying to shore up much needed investments to revamp an ageing industry. Talks with the Russian firms Lukoil and Rosneft have been held just on the sidelines of the forum in St. Petersburg at the same time when US companies ExxonMobil and Chevron have been trying to make inroads in the oil and gas sector in Algeria, a country where competition has significantly intensified in the aftermath of the conflict in Ukraine.
As the Italian national oil company ENI leads the way, reinforcing its status by also buying the stakes of the British Neptune Energy in the Touat project in Adrar, it is clear how diversification has become the main trend driving not only investments but also the foreign policies, particular those of non-aligned countries, according to a hedging strategy not dissimilar to that adopted by rising powers in the Gulf.
In the new multipolar world, this balancing act does not restrain countries from the Global South from finding new partners in the West, when opportunities arise. At the same time, it does not prevent Algeria from still cultivating historic ties with Russia, also considering the fluid geopolitics of an increasingly volatile region, in which both Algiers and Moscow have a significant stake.
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