Algerian-Russian Cooperation: True Strategic Partnership?

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Formally, the Algerian-Russian partnership is labeled “strategic”. This research is providing the answer whether this relationship could be qualified as a “strategic partnership”. Firstly, through the “strategic partnership” concept analysis as a mechanism of modern international cooperation, and secondly, applying the defined elements of “strategic partnership” to the Algerian-Russian relations. The interstate strategic partnership is generally based on the following elements: long and distinguished historical relations, material factors such as strong economic and political relations in the long term, and non-material factors such as common values. By process-tracing some selected economic and political fields and issues of the Algerian-Russian relationship, this article reveals the significance of 2001 as a crucial point that has urged both Algiers and Moscow to significantly alter both their outlook on global politics and on each other. Moreover, distinguished historical lasting and steady ties are at the heart of Algeria's strategic partnership with Russia. The Algerian-Russian / Soviet relations have always been distinct and exemplary both during the War of Independence and during the Cold War or after. Algeria and Russia link a number of common values. These include commitment to democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, and respect for international law. Both countries also respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the partner states, promoting a more equitable and balanced system of international relations based on collective solution of global problems, the primacy of international law, and equal relations with the central coordinating role of the UN as the main organization governing international relations. This leads to the conclusion that cooperation between Algeria and Russia is both real and formally a “strategic partnership”.

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Russia and Algeria have staged a remarkable comeback to the international arena after a decade of political and economic instability that followed the Soviet collapse in 1991, and a “dark decade” in Algeria1. Both countries have become more flexible in their external relations after being freed from ideological considerations. Algeria, the largest country in Africa, is following the changing global power dynamics as well as aiming for a more systematic approach towards rising powers. It struggles to be a regional power and join BRICS club which is made up of the emerging countries, by 2030 through the program of economic diversification adopted in 2016 and the strategic partnerships with global powers like Russia and China. 1 Algeria has experienced major economic, social and political crises and from 1990 to 1999, around to 200 thousand people were killed by terrorists. It was the biggest tragedy of independent Algeria. For Algeria, Russia is a trusted and reliable strategic partner [Vasiliev, Tkachenko 2011]. There has been a steady growth in bilateral cooperation since the signing of the ‘Declaration of Strategic Partnership between Algeria and the Russian Federation in April 20012. The Algerian-Russian economic relationship has changed from that of buyer - seller or “import - export” to a co-producer in design, development and scientific research. Russia, being the largest country in the world, uses this new institutional form of post-Cold War international relations and has adopted many strategic partnerships with global and regional powers in order to assure a more balanced world order and promote multipolarity rather than allowing any country or bloc of countries to dominate international relations [Vasiliev 1993]. The research paper aims to answer the question: Is the Algerian-Russian partnership formally labeled “strategic” really strategic? To answer this problematic, the article inquires on the definition of “strategic partnership”, the historical ties, depth, and scope of the current relations between Algeria and Russia, outlines the reasons for establishing a strategic partnership in the contemporary context, and focuses on the shared values. What Is a Strategic Partnership? Scholars and policymakers differ on a definition of “strategic partnership”. This concept originated in the contacts between the United States and the Soviet Union during their 1990 bilateral discussions on how to manage post-Cold War European security. In this context, the notion of a “strategic partnership” was advanced by the Soviets and appeared to mean a division of authority in Europe vis-a-vis the United States and its allies and a Soviet sphere of influence in the East [Kay 2000; Landa 2008]. The notion of “partnership” in international relations is not an especially new phenomenon, but it is difficult to pinpoint when the term “strategic” was first used to characterize such diplomatic relationships. Strategic relationships have been defined by some scholars and policymakers alike as “special relationships”, “particular bilateral relations”, “extraordinary relations”, “preferential treatment” namely relationships encompassing long-lasting historical ties, shared interests across various policy fields, and a common sense of project and purpose based on shared ideas and values. Hence, special relationships, not only encompass preferential treatment in line with shared political-economic interests, but also consist of non-material factors such as shared history and common values and ideas [Heiduk 2014]. Therefore, strategic partnerships mostly fit into the realist concepts of international relations theory, particularly the relationship between offensive and defensive state strategies because this mechanism of cooperation aims to achieve a combination of common interests and goals. But the emphasis given to non-material factors such as beliefs, values, ideas, norms, and identity in this definition appropriates exclusively to the constructivist approach which acknowledges that states interact in a social environment - the international system - and they act on the basis of a particular state identity and the respective meanings and understandings associated with it and not merely in response to material interests and structures3. Historical Lasting and Steady Ties between Algeria and Russia Historical ties are traditionally at the heart of Algeria’s strategic partnership with Russia. Algerian-Russian / Soviet relations have always been distinct and exemplary both during the War of Independence and during the Cold War or after. During the Algerian War of Independence, the Soviet Union had been providing military, technical and material assistance to Algeria4. The USSR was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic in October 1960, and then de jure on March 23, 1962, by establishing diplomatic relations, a few months before the official proclamation of Algeria’s independence [Bogucharsky 2007: 108-125]. In the 1960s and 1970s, Algerian-Russian / Soviet relations reached the peak of bilateral cooperation. Algeria was close to the Soviet in this period not only because of the supply of arms. The 1970s were described as the golden age of Algerian-Russian / Soviet cooperation, during which Algerian foreign policy aimed to strengthen ties and cooperation with the anti-imperialist powers of the world, including the Soviet Union. The president Houari Boumediene visited the Soviet Union in 1965 and 1967, and in March 1969, the Chairman of the Presidium of Supreme Soviet Nikolai Podgorny made an official visit to Algeria. To preserve its strategic relations with the USSR, Algeria was obliged to navigate a delicate course. In fact, it made a concession to the Soviets in 1968, when as a member of the UN Security Council; Algeria had abstained on a resolution condemning the Soviets invasion of Czechoslovakia [Ghettas 2017]. During the Cold War as these relations were occurring, Algeria had been playing the role of the Global South leadership politically and economically. While the broader political agenda was primarily set and promoted through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) process, the economic agenda was driven primarily by the expanding Group of 77 (G77) members and the newly created trade organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). By 1973, these two parallel processes had converged with the call for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) at the NAM summit in Algiers. Overall stance, iterated by hosting the summit, was not one of supporting either side in the Cold War. One of the main points emphasized at Bandung was that the third world countries should make a stand against colonialism and neo-colonialism. In a post-colonial Algeria, subscribing to these ideologies was integral to domestic stability. By the mid-1970s, Algeria was fully engaged in the zenith of the Non-Aligned Movement and saw both Moscow and Washington as imperial powers that looked down upon the third world. Nevertheless, presidential visits, diplomatic ties, and cordial bilateral relations continued with both of superpowers [Kesseiri 2005]. Since coming to power in 1979, Algerian president Shadli Bendjedid changed the foreign policy orientations. A new trend towards the de-ideologization of the country’s foreign policy emerged. During the 1980s, president Bendjedid gradually shifted the focus of Algerian diplomacy from the Third World leadership of a regional policy focused on the Maghreb and the establishment of the Union of the Arab Maghrib “Union du Maghreb Arabe (UMA)”. Also, he improved relations with the West, including the United States of America with the interest to diversify Algeria’s sources of arms. This strategy contributed to weakening ties between Algiers and Moscow [Bogucharsky 2003; Zherlitsina 2015]. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the trend of declining levels of cooperation between the two countries continued for different reasons, for instance, the collapse of the USSR, which was described by the president V. Putin, as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” that has not only affected bilateral interstate interactions, but also the world order. From another side, during this “dark decade”, Algeria sharply reduced its activities on the international scene and its interactions with other countries. However, in 1999, the president Abdelaziz Bouteflika5 brought a major change to Algeria’s foreign policy strategy based on national interest pragmatism [Mortimer 2015; Zherlitsina 2017], enhancing Algeria’s image abroad and reinserting the country into international affairs. Bouteflika’s presidency, which began in April 1999 was followed shortly by Putin’s presidency and two leaders pushed for the return to more cordial relations, including discussions of arms sales and economic cooperation. In 2006 there was a significant rise in arms sales, as well as a settlement of Algeria’s debt to Russia. The bilateral relations thus were at a very strong point. Shared Interests between Algeria and Russia: Multi-Faceted Cooperation Russian-Algerian relations are better today than they have ever been, since Algerian independence in 1962. Their “strategic partnership” is profound, both stronger and more multi-faceted than generally appreciated. Since president Bouteflika’s visits to Moscow (2001, 2008) and president Putin’s than president Medvedev visit to Algiers (2006, 2010)6, relations between Algeria and Russia have witnessed an important qualitative development reflecting the common desire to distinguish the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation existing between the two countries. The strategic partnership declaration signed in 2001 constitutes the reference text and the cornerstone for the relations between the two countries in the post-Cold War period. Algeria is the first Arab and African country to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the Russian Federation for strengthening and expanding relations. And since the adopting of this document, consultations between the two Governments have made significant evolution in the progressive establishment of the legal framework within which bilateral exchanges should take place. The established solid legal framework so far encompasses a vast spectrum. In fact, two countries have signed plenty cooperation agreements in various fields, including Convention for the avoidance of double taxation with respect to taxes on income and capital (2008), Agreement on cooperation in the field of mass communications (2017), Convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters (2018), Agreement on cooperation in the field of maritime transport (2007), Agreement on air traffic (2007), Agreement on ensuring the safety of secret information (2002), Agreement on the promotion and mutual protection of investments and the Protocol to the Agreement (2006), Agreement on cooperation in the field of culture, science, education, sports, tourism and archives (2001), Agreement on trade, economic and financial relations and on the debt settlement of the Algerian People’s Democratic Republic to the Russian Federation on earlier loans and its Protocol (2006), Agreement on the mutual abolition of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic or official passports (2018)7. The implementation of many mechanisms of cooperation between Algeria and Russia reflects the success of the partnership strategy between the two parties. For instance, the Russian-Algerian Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic and Scientific and Technical Cooperation is a smoothly running practical mechanism for interaction in all spheres. Working groups in various fields of cooperation regularly meet within the framework of this commission. Moreover, intergovernmental contacts are complemented with dialogue between businesses in the framework of the Russian-Algerian business forum that greatly contributes to deepening relations between the two countries. Business communities are also cooperating with the Russian-Arab and the Russian-Algerian business councils. In 2018, the trade exchange between Algeria and Russia reached USD 4 billion according to the Russian Ministry of Economy8. Algeria is currently making efforts to diversify its economy. Russia is also diversifying sources of income from diverse fields. Hence, the two countries also cooperate in this field by establishing joint industrial enterprises to produce machinery and equipment, especially agricultural machinery. They cooperate in the geological mineral exploration as well as modernization of the economic projects implemented at the time of the Soviet Union. Russian companies invest in the energy sector in Algeria. For the cooperation in the military-technical sphere and arms supply, Russia is the first partner for Algeria. With the bulk of Algerian defense equipment being of Soviet / Russian origin, cooperation in this sphere constitutes an important and even decisive part of the Algerian-Russian strategic partnership. Although Algeria is continuing to pursue its larger goal of “algerianization” of defense production as well as diversifying sources of supply and Russia, on the other side, aims to diversify and increase a number of partners [Kazdaghli 2017; Connolly, Sendstad 2017: 10], the two countries are signatories to the long-term military-technical agreement. Moreover, Algeria is purchasing sophisticated military hardware from Russia covering all branches of its armed forces. The two countries are also seeking new ways and means of continuing military-technical cooperation, including joint production, joint servicing of Soviet / Russian equipment supplied to third countries, cooperation in the field of research and development and modernization of old Soviet equipment. For instance, they are currently discussing the possibility of creating a joint venture in Algeria for the production, extension of service life and disposal of guided and unguided ammunition9. During Vladimir Putin’s March 2006 visit to Algiers, Algeria signed a massive deal to buy USD 7.5 billion in Russian military equipment in exchange for a write-off of Algeria’s USD 4.7 billion in debt to Russia [Algeria - Russia: Military Package... 2006; Katz 2007]. Algeria became Russia’s third largest customer for military goods after China and India10 and about half of the Russian weapons sold in Africa were bought by Algeria. Algeria’s heavy demand for Russian weapons is due to many reasons, but most notably the historical link between the two countries through economic and historical relations since Algerian independence in which Russia had played an important role revealed Russian ambassador to Algeria, Igor Belyaev11. The energy sector is the backbone of the Russian economy as well as the Algerian economy and the two countries are the principal exporter of gas and oil in the world. The bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Algeria and Russia in this field are deep and various, Algeria has significantly contributed to persuading Russia and other oil-producing countries (Non-OPEC) to cooperate with OPEC to stop the collapse of oil prices since 2014. The Historic Algiers Accord on September 28, 2016, laid to the foundations of the OPEC, Non-OPEC Declaration of Cooperation, adopted by 25 countries which helped to eliminate the excess of oil stocks and restore oil market balance. The Declaration of Cooperation is a remarkable historical success of Algerian diplomacy. It is today, in the interest of producers, the oil industry and consumers to capitalize on its positive effects and ensure a smooth transition so as not to destabilize the ongoing return to market equilibrium12. Furthermore, Russia remains the largest energy exporter and producer in the world in 2018. For Algeria, estimates indicate that it has the third largest gas and shale oil reserves in the world [Antonyuk, Monogarov, Lapo 2017]. Algeria and Russia closely cooperate as part of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF). Russia provides extensive support for Algeria’s initiative to create a special institution under the auspices of the forum, Algeria, on the other side, will be joining the International Association of Oil Transporters at the invitation of Russia13. Bilateral cooperation is strong in this sphere, for instance, the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy was signed in September 2014, Algeria plans to build its first nuclear power plant in 2025. For the cooperation on global issues, both Algeria and Russia stress the need for strengthening the United Nations with respecting international law and norms. As Algeria and Russia are seeking integration of their economies with the world economy, they both have a common interest in striving for an equitable world economic order and further introduction of reforms in the structures and mechanisms of multilateral trade and financial institutions like the WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. A vital priority for both countries is strengthening global and regional security. Obviously, Algeria and Russia have broad experience in fighting terrorism. The continued terrorist menace in the Sahel, the return of foreign fighters from Syria14 and the precarious security situation in Libya would force Algeria and Russia to regard the combat against new threats as the priority area for their cooperation and joint action. Algeria has joined an international database set up by the Russian Federal Security Service 13 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions during a Joint News Conference Following Talks with Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel. Moscow, February 19, 2018. URL: i6t41cq3VWP6/content/id/3085195 (accessed: 01.01.2019). 14 See: News Analysis: Algeria preparing for the return of foreign fighters with efforts to fight terrorism // Xinhua. February 17, 2018. URL: 2018-02/17/c_136981866.htm (accessed: 01.01.2019). Ilya Rogachev, director of the Department for New Challenges and Threats at Russia’s Foreign Ministry said: “Our intelligence agencies know the names of everyone who traveled to Syria to fight, everyone agrees that terrorism is a global threat and should be addressed by joining efforts” (Russia Warns of Risk to Global Antiterrorism Efforts // Financial Times. December 27, 2018. URL: content/2cb20a7a-0769-11e9-9fe8-acdb36967cfc (accessed: 01.01.2019)). (FSB) as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. Both countries intensify joint actions for drying the fountainhead of international terrorist financing including the kidnapping. In this context, UN Security Council recalls in its resolution 2133 (2014) the adoption by the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) of the “Algiers Memorandum on Good Practices on Preventing and Denying the Benefits of Kidnapping for Ransom by Terrorists” and encourages the United Nations Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) to take it into account, as appropriate, consistent with its mandate, including in its facilitation of capacity building to member states. Shared Non-Material Factors: Common Values Binding Algeria and Russia “Strategic partnership” is not only a highly institutionalized form of cooperation and dense network or encompassing preferential treatment in line with shared political-economic interests and historical ties. It also consists of the so-called non-material factors such as shared values. Algeria and Russia, not sharing common border, share common values of democracy, pluralism, rule of law, normative outlook and common sense of project and purpose. These common values strongly bind Algeria and Russia. Both countries are sovereign democratic with a republican form of government15, separation of powers and social justice. Both Algerian and Russian history dates back thousands of years in a long chain of battles which have made Algeria and Russia forever countries of freedom and dignity. The two peoples have always fought for freedom and democracy and while sticking to their national sovereignty and independence. Algeria and Russia are promoting international peace, global security and stability, advancing more just and balanced system of international relations based on collective decision-making, primacy of international law, equal partnership relations with the central coordinating role of the UN as the principal organization regulating international relations16. They coordinate for enhancing and promoting good-neighborly relations with adjoining states and helping to overcome existing and prevent potential tensions and conflicts. Moreover, they extend their solidarity to all peoples who are fighting for political and economic liberation, for the right of self-determination and against all forms of racism17. Russia and Algeria also share the value of reinforcement of international cooperation and development of an amicable bilateral and multilateral partnership between the states on the basis of equality, mutual interest, non-interference in internal affairs and the respect of independence and sovereignty. They recognize the principles and objectives of the UN Charter and consider universally recognized principles and norms of international law as well as international agreements an integral part of their legal system18. Algeria continues to carry great weight in the promotion of peace and reconciliation values on the basis of “Living Together in Peace”. On December 8, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly adopted at the initiative of Algeria a resolution 72/130 proclaiming May 16 as the International Day of Living Together in Peace. The International Day of Living Together in Peace constitutes a means of regularly mobilizing the efforts of the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding, and solidarity, and to express its attachment to the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity19. Conclusion Declaration on the Strategic Partnership between Algeria and Russia signed in 2001 provides the general and solid framework, elaborating the principles and contours of Algerian-Russian relations in the 21st century. Scholars and policymakers agree that the strategic Algeria - Russia partnership is based on three fundamental elements: long and distinguished historical relations, material factors or common interests, as well as common values. By evaluating the relations in these spheres, some examples were provided to demonstrate the depth of the historical relations between the two countries. The fields of the current cooperation are numerous and diverse, from education, scientific research, tourism, and culture, to maritime transport, air traffic, mass communications, justice, investment protection and other. Obviously, common or shared values also contribute to binding Algeria and Russia, but there is another important element, that is “mutual trust”. Over the years, great confidence and mutual respect have been created between both Algerian and Russian people. Algeria has always recognized the importance of Russia as a global leading power and repeatedly emphasized that its relationship with one great power is not at the cost of its relations with its other friends and partners. On the other side, Russia has recognized the role of Algeria as a regional power in the Arab world and in the Mediterranean Sea. This article has proven that current Algerian- Russian cooperation could be fully qualified as a strategic partnership. At the same time, the Algerian- Russian relationship is not exclusive, nor is it expected to be so in the post-Cold War world scenario. Moreover, the strategic partnership between Algiers and Moscow is still lacking in substance due to the structural diversity between the two countries which explains that investment cooperation dynamics is not at the desired level. Western sanctions against Russia specifically the CAATSA Act20, the accelerated growth of Algerian-Chinese economic and military relations constitute a real challenge for the steady strategic Algeria-Russia partnership.

About the authors

Malek Mousli

Mission of the League of Arab States

Author for correspondence.
Moscow, Russian Federation

PhD (International Relations), diplomat at the Moscow Mission of the League of Arab States


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