On Friday, Algeria received the Russian head of military-technical cooperation, the Western-sanctioned diplomat Dmitry Evgenyevich Shugayev. Accompanied by a delegation of Russian military personnel, the head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation held a meeting with Saïd Chengriha, Algeria's chief of staff.
According to media close to the Algerian pouvoir, Shugayev's visit precedes the forthcoming military manoeuvres that Russian and Algerian forces are preparing in the military zone bordering Morocco at Bechar, just 50km from the boundary markers that mark the border between the two countries. The manoeuvres, which will take place this November and involve motorised and paratrooper elements, were announced last year, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, the profile of Chengriha's guest is more about his responsibility for exporting military equipment than preparing for military exercises. Shugayev is a civilian, not a uniformed officer, and trained in the elite schools of the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he graduated in international journalism and economics. Later, after spending seven years in the private sector, he became a member of the management cabinet of the state military export company Rosoboronexport.
In 2008, with Putin's reshuffle of Russian state conglomerates, Shugayev was transferred to the Rostec macro-entity, where from 2009 he became vice-president and was responsible for overseeing foreign economic activity, marketing policy, branding and advertising. In this role, according to the information portal T Adviser, Shugayev was responsible for the organisation of major military equipment trade fairs in Russia, such as the International Aerospace Salon (IAS).
Since 2017, Shugayev has headed the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. And with this profile, so key for the Russian arms industry and its exports, it is rather clear that Moscow is sending to Algeria the person responsible for negotiating with Algiers the potential purchase agreement worth 12 billion dollars that is expected to be closed between the two countries by 2023.
It was at the end of October that the specialised media Africa Intelligence revealed the existence of negotiations on this high-value deal. A juicy income for the Kremlin and a necessary revitalisation of the Algerian armed forces' equipment. The armies under Chengriha's command need Russia to modernise their arsenal. For years, Moscow has been Algiers' main commercial partner, and the compatibility of weapons systems, which have to operate together on the battlefield, makes Algeria a "forced" buyer of equipment standardised to Russian norms.
The fact that the media close to the Algerian state have tried to sell Shugayev's visit as a further step in the preparation of the manoeuvres, which should not be ruled out, would indicate that the "Pouvoir" does not yet want to broadcast the news of this gigantic purchase of military equipment from Russia. Exchanges of weapons systems with Moscow may be subject to strong US sanctions such as CAATSA, even more so after the gulf that has been dug between the Western and Eastern blockades. Algeria, which is successfully revitalising its international muscle, does not want to take a bad turn in its relations with European countries, with whom its gas trade is growing.
Sanctions from several Western countries are weighing on the Kremlin's envoy himself. Shugayev's assets are frozen in France, and embargoes and various sanctions are planned for him in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union, Canada and Ukraine. The number of sanctions against this senior Russian government official intensified after the start of the invasion of Ukraine and many were updated and strengthened in November.
At the beginning of October it was announced that Algeria intends to approve a 130% increase in its military budget by 2023. In addition to the renewal of materiel, Algeria is expected to "export" its armed forces to neighbouring countries, possibly Mali and Libya.