Algeria and Tunisia move their pieces on the Libyan board

The President of Algeria held a telephone conversation on Monday with his Russian counterpart to strengthen their partnership in several areas
Stock photography. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune receives his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied in the capital Algiers on 2 February 2020

AFP / HO / PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE  -   Stock photography. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune receives his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied in the capital Algiers on 2 February 2020

Oil is and has always been the coveted wealth in both the Middle East and North Africa. The much-loved black gold has marked the evolution of some of the bloodiest conflicts of the 21st century, such as that in Libya. The geopolitical interests of countries like Russia and Turkey and the disregard for the country's complexities have brought the North African nation to the brink. The conflict that plagues this nation is a cause for concern for countries like Tunisia or Algeria. This Monday, the foreign ministers of both nations announced their intention to reach a true dialogue to ensure stability and prosperity in Libya. 

During this meeting, the Algerian minister, Sabri Boukadoum, has underlined that the common positions of Algeria and Tunisia on the Libyan issue "have nothing to do with oil or economic interests", according to the declarations collected by the news agency TAP. Thus, Boukadoum defended that the most important thing for both leaders is "the stability of Libya and the respect of its territorial integrity".  At the end of the meeting, the Algerian diplomat said he hoped that the efforts of Tunisia and his country would contribute to reaching a political agreement in Libya and help create a "strong, united and stable state".  "Saving Libya is our duty because of the ties of neighbourliness and solid historical relations," he stressed. 

El ministro de Exteriores de Argelia Sabri Boukadoum durante la reunión en Argel, Argelia, el 23 de enero de 2020.
PHOTO/REUTERS  - Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum during the meeting in Algiers, Algeria, on 23 January 2020

His Tunisian counterpart Noureddine Erray said that "it can be said that Tunisia and Algeria are the only two states that do not have an agenda in Libya". In his speech he pointed out that his intention is to restore unity and stability to Libya through peaceful and consensual solutions among the Libyans themselves. "Libya's case is sensitive and directly affects the national security of our countries.  He also stressed that the meeting was an "opportunity" to discuss the Palestinian issue, "an important cause for the Arab nation". "Tunisia and Algeria will work seriously to defend the rights of the Palestinian people and to confront all Israeli attempts to undermine the international legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority," he added. 

With regard to joint Arab action, he stressed that both countries consider that this system is in need of profound reform to enable it to meet current challenges. The President of Tunisia, Kais Said, also met on Monday with the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs to analyse the situation in the region, particularly in Libya.  This visit took place in a context of regional tension, caused by foreign intervention in the Libyan conflict and the health crisis caused by the COVID-19. 

The meeting came just a week after Algerian Trade Minister Kamel Rezig received the ambassadors of Tunisia and Portugal in Algiers to discuss ways of cooperating, according to a statement released by the ministry. During his meeting with the Tunisian ambassador, Rezig said that trade relations between Algeria and Tunisia "have experienced a remarkable development that is reflected in the volume of trade between the two countries. In June, the Algerian president expressed his intention to create an alliance with Tunisia and Egypt to find a solution to the civil war raging in the North African nation.

Algeria and Tunisia have strengthened their bilateral relations to address the insecurity caused by the Libyan conflict. In addition to the troops loyal to Haftar and Fayez Sarraj, a number of actors such as organised crime networks and armed militias are involved.  This situation is exacerbated by the porous borders and structural insecurity present in the region. All this has favoured the emergence of a war economy from which large sectors of the population, organised crime groups or terrorist networks benefit. 

Poverty and food insecurity, underdevelopment or corruption have been installed at the gates of these two countries.   To these events we must add the multidimensional crises caused by terrorism and transnational organized crime. Both Algeria and Tunisia fear that this conflict will increase the fragilities and tensions present in the region and that these threats will be multiplied by the presence of foreign powers.  For this reason they have claimed their place on the Libyan chessboard and insisted that the future of the North African nation can only be decided by the Libyans themselves.  

Un miembro de las fuerzas gubernamentales se dirige al frente de la línea de fuego sobre un vehículo militar desde Misrata, Libia, el 3 de febrero de 2020
PHOTO/REUTERS - A member of the government forces drives to the front line of a military vehicle from Misrata, Libya, on 3 February 2020
Russia and Algeria: partners or competitors?

In this scenario, Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had a telephone conversation on Monday with his Russian counterpart. The two leaders confirmed their intention to further strengthen the Russian-Algerian strategic partnership in several areas, including coordination in the global oil market with respect to the OPEC+ agreement and cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, according to an official statement issued by the Kremlin. 

In addition, both Tebboune and Putin have expressed concern about recent events in Libya and have pointed out the need to consolidate international efforts to reach a solution to this conflict through political and diplomatic means. The two heads of state have decided to intensify their action to "facilitate the establishment of peace and security" in the North African nation. The Algerian capital intends to assume the role of mediator between the warring parties in the Libyan conflict, a war that threatens regional stability. 

The Libyan National Army (LNA) -- led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar -- is supported by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Russia; while the Tripoli government, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and internationally recognized by the United Nations, receives military aid from Turkey and Qatar. In this complex scenario, the country headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that there will be no ceasefire until Haftar withdraws. ​​​​​​​

Libya has become a war of legitimacy and a war for control of the natural resources that exist in the country, specifically oil. Black gold was another protagonist in the meeting between Putin and his Algerian counterpart. During the conversation they discussed the role of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). "Both leaders have agreed to continue consultations and coordination with OPEC members and partners for the stabilization of the international oil market," they stated in an official statement to which the digital Le 360 had access. 

El presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, habla durante la reunión anual de la junta del Ministerio de Defensa de Rusia en el Centro de Control de la Defensa Nacional
PHOTO/KREMLIN  - Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the annual meeting of the board of the Russian Ministry of Defense at the National Defense Control Center

The OPEC+ alliance, responsible for nearly 60% of world oil production, agreed at the beginning of June to extend the cut in its supplies, for a total of 9.7 million barrels per day (mbd). Throughout this week, the members of this alliance will meet to evaluate "energy market conditions, production levels and compliance with the agreement". 

Tebounne and Putin have also spoken about the coronavirus pandemic.  Algeria recorded its highest number of infections on Monday, forcing the government to impose new measures to restrict mobility in at least 29 provinces of the country, including the capital, Algiers. For its part, the COVID-19 pandemic has left 6,248 new cases and 175 deaths in Russia in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infected people to more than 739,000 and the death toll to around 11,600.  At this meeting, the Russian President has again invited the Algerian President to Russia, although no date has been set for this meeting at this time. 

Diplomatic relations between Russia and Algeria have been changing over the last few years. However, one of its best moments was in 2006, when important agreements on the sale of Russian arms to Algeria were announced, as well as a settlement of the North African country's debt to the Russian giant, explained the then think tank Middle East Policy Council. During the following years these relations cooled down. However, oil and the coronavirus pandemic have brought two nations closer together again, and they are now playing a fundamental role in the development of the Libyan conflict. ​​​​​​​