Algeria and Russia are strategic partners. There has been understanding and harmony between the parties since the Cold War, and despite the ups and downs brought about by different global scenarios, bilateral relations have always remained stable. The initial nexus of political and energy cooperation has now given way to a nexus of military collaboration. Algiers is now Moscow's third largest arms client. In fact, over the past three years it has imported more than 80% of its equipment from Russia, and is also a regular participant in the Kremlin's military exercises.
Algeria took part in early September in Vostok 2022, an ambitious military exercise staged at nine Russian training camps in the east of the Eurasian country, as well as in maritime and coastal areas of the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan. The Algerian army provided at least a hundred ground troops to the total of 50,000 troops deployed on the ground, according to figures provided by the Algerian Defence Ministry.
Led by Russian Chief of General Staff Valeri Gerasimov, the military exercise involved thirteen countries, including members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and other partner states. The Russian and Algerian forces were accompanied by troops from China and India, the most prominent. The military display included 140 aircraft, 60 warships and all kinds of tactical weaponry.
Vladimir Putin was the centre of attention one day before the end of Vostok 2022. The Russian president appeared at the Sergeyevsky training range in the company of Gerasimov and his controversial Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu to monitor the exercises on the ground through binoculars. He intended to send a message of strength to the rest of the world. Russia still has allies despite the Western boycott, and Algeria is one of them.
The Algerian Defence Ministry explained in a note that, for the North African country, this is "an opportunity to exchange and share experiences with foreign armies". Algeria is benefiting from this partnership with a Russia that is at a low ebb. On the one hand, it is strengthening cooperation with its main arms supplier. On the other, it is moving closer to the China axis and balancing the scales on the eastern side of the diplomatic support it has received from Morocco, its rival for hegemony in the Maghreb.
This does not seem to pose a problem for the Elysée. The former head of the DGSE, France's foreign intelligence service, Alain Juillet, denounced in a recent interview the French and Western silence on Algeria's participation in the Vostok 2022 military exercise. "No one in France has spoken about the fact that Algeria is participating in this," stressed the former professor at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), a factory for state officials where French President Emmanuel Macron studied.
The Algerian army's participation in Vostok 2022 reveals that "very close to us, on the other side of the Mediterranean, there is a country that ultimately works with the Russians and that obviously does not agree with what is happening in Europe", said Julliet, 80, in an extensive interview with the magazine Valeurs actuelles, which is close to the French extreme right, in which he reviewed the current geopolitical scenario.
Julliet, who has even collaborated with RT France, the Kremlin's media terminal in his country, until he retired in January of this year, attacked the hypocrisy of the French government, whose Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, visited Algeria a few weeks ago accompanied by a large part of her cabinet to strengthen relations. Weeks earlier, it was Macron who made a high-profile state visit to the country to iron out differences with the Algerian leadership. In this case, the Elysée is prioritising its national interests.
Vostok 2022 was far from being an isolated episode of military cooperation, but rather a further demonstration of the deep strategic partnership between Algiers and Moscow in this area. This November, the Maghreb country will host new joint manoeuvres with the Russian army at the Hamaguir military base in the province of Béchar, close to the border with Morocco.
According to the Algerian Defence Ministry, 80 Russian and 80 Algerian troops will take part in the exercise over four days. The soldiers will be trained in searching for, detecting and eliminating terrorist groups in desert terrain. The aim is to combat groups operating in the Sahel, which Algeria says is the Maghreb's destabilising backyard.