Can EU stop Algeria from financing Russia through its military purchases?

By Farid Alilat

Posted on Thursday, 24 November 2022 10:19
The Algerian army’s Russian-made MI-26 helicopters during the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Algeria's independence in Algiers on 5 July 2022. © NurPhoto via AFP

17 MEPs are calling on Ursula von der Leyen and the EU to revise the Association Agreement with Algeria on the grounds that it provides "political, logistical and financial support" to Russia in the war against Ukraine.

The Algerian authorities are under new pressure due to their close ties with the Russian Federation. This is despite the fact that the date of President Tebboune’s visit to Moscow is yet to be announced. 17 MEPs sent a letter to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, on 16 November to ask that the Association Agreement between the EU and Algeria be revised. The deal was signed in 2002 and came into force in 2005.

Led by Andrius Kubilius, former prime minister of the Republic of Lithuania and chairman of the EPP (European People’s Party – Christian Democrats) Group, the MEPs are concerned about the increasingly close relationship between Russia and Algeria. They say it has resulted in “political, logistical and financial support for Putin’s aggression in Ukraine”.

The 17 signatory MEPs (elected from Lithuania, France, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia) listed the elements that attest to Algeria’s supposed support for Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Algiers still abstains at the UN

First of all, Algiers abstained from voting on the 2 March 2022 UN resolution, which ‘demands that Russia immediately cease the use of force against Ukraine’. Furthermore, the signatories expressed concern after Algiers failed to vote on the UN General Assembly’s 7 April decision to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council (HRC). On 12 October, Algeria again abstained from voting on the resolution regarding Russia’s “illegal” annexation of four Ukrainian regions. The 17 MEPs argue that these abstentions are signs that Algiers supports “Russia’s geopolitical aspirations”.

In support of their demand, the petition’s signatories also point out that Algeria is “among the top four buyers of Russian arms in the world, including an arms contract worth more than $7bn in 2021″ and that “this military transfer has made Algeria the third largest recipient of Russian arms in the world”. Any influx of money to Russia will only strengthen its war machine in Ukraine, the signatories add.

The 17 MEPs see this as proof that Algeria is providing financial support for the aggression against Ukraine. This constitutes a violation of Article 2 of the 2005 Association Agreement, which states that “respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underpins the internal and international policies of both parties and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement”.

The signatories therefore urge the EU to take steps to ensure that its partners are not tempted to finance the Russian government by purchasing military equipment. They also ask that the EU call on Algeria to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, which regulates the international trade in conventional arms (which came into force on 24 December 2014).

A non-existing contract

The problem is that by basing their argument on the existence of a $7bn arms purchase contract signed with Moscow in 2021, the 17 MEPs would be reenacting a situation akin to that of Republican Senator Marc Rubio. The former candidate for his party’s nomination against Donald Trump used similar logic in September.

A month later, a group of 27 congressional representatives used the same argument to ask Secretary of State Antony Blinken to impose sanctions against certain Algerian officials, whom they accused of purchasing arms from Russia.

However, Algiers and Moscow did not initate any arms contracts worth $7bn in 2021. The total amount of Russian equipment exports to Algeria for that year came to $985m and $2bn in 2020, according to a report by the Russian Federal Customs Service published in September 2021. Even though Russia remains Algeria’s main arms supplier, never before have the two countries signed a deal of such magnitude in one year.

After years of negotiations, Putin had also agreed in March 2006 to convert the military debt of $4.5bn that Algeria had contracted with the USSR in the 1960s and 70s. In exchange, Algiers agreed to sign a contract worth $3.5bn and purchase some military equipment, including 28 Sukhoi SU-30 MKI fighters, 40 MiG-29 SMT fighters, 8 groups of S-300 PMU anti-aircraft missiles and 40 T-90 tanks.

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