Russian interests are developing in the Maghreb

The rapprochement of Maghreb – mainly Algeria and Morocco – with Russia seemed to leave Western observers quite doubtful. Some of them have based this rapprochement on the words followed by acts of Russian foreign policy in Syria contrary to Western policy – mainly US and French – judged timid if not unsuitable to the situation by their Maghreb partners. This acknowledgement could indeed strengthen the development of Russian interests in the Maghreb.

In 2013-2014, Russian agricultural imports from Morocco jumped by 40% – and even more now due to European sanctions against Russia – for a total worth USD 2.5 billion in 2014, including 87% of Russian exports. Russian tourism to Morocco also tripled over the last decade. Smaller than its Moroccan counterpart, Algerian trade exchange with Russia exceeded USD 500 million in 2014, excluding weapons, including 98% of Russian exports. Natural gas, aircrafts, fishing and citruses in Morocco, geology, oil, satellites and weapons in Algeria, Russian trade is capitalizing on the two countries’ disappointment in their relations with the West.

Morocco is distancing itself from the United States on a major disagreement on Western Sahara while Algeria is affirming its willingness to “completely emancipate from its relationship with France” and “reaffirm the primacy of its relations with Russia.” The desire for independence yet recognized decades ago in 1956 for Morocco and 1962 for Algeria is still characterizing both countries’ diplomatic as well as economic approach. In this pro-Russian context emerged some Algerian-Moroccan competition.

Like Morocco, Algeria is claiming itself as Russia’s leading partner in the Maghreb – 90% of its weaponry is made in Russia. As the growing presence of China in the Maghreb and Africa sometimes attracted quite unjustified attention, Russia opted for the discreet building of strong political ties – like increased exchange of geo-intelligence – followed by trade ties’ development, however still small compared with the potential achieved by competition.