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Algeria in defence talks with Italy as it seeks new military alliances

Algeria won't give up military relations with Russia, but the country is looking to hedge its bets
Algerian soldiers at a military parade in Algiers, on 5 July 2022, as the country celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence (AFP)
Algerian soldiers at a military parade in Algiers, on 5 July 2022, as the country celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence (AFP)

Algerian and Italian military officials agreed to deepen ties between their respective defence industries in a bilateral meeting on Monday.

Italian officials said they were willing to support Algeria in any future acquisitions of Italian-made military hardware, which could also involve sharing of technology and industrial know-how.

'Despite Algeria's efforts to drift away from Russia's defence industry, it may be hard to receive the same preferential treatment it enjoyed with Russians'

- Zine Ghebouli, Algeria analyst

Agreements like this have become increasingly important for Algeria since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Between 2017 and 2021, more than 80 percent of weapons imports in Algeria came from Russia. This was followed by Germany at more than six percent and France at just under four percent.

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There is, however, increasing pressure on Algeria to stop or reduce imports of Russian weaponry.

In October, more than a dozen US lawmakers called for sanctions against Algeria over its continuing military trading with Russia.

That did not sway Algeria from holding a joint military exercise with Russian armed forces for two weeks in November, the largest since the two countries established close relations during the Soviet period.

Zine Ghebouli, an Algeria analyst and postgraduate scholar at the University of Glasgow, said: "Given the role of the Algerian armed forces and geopolitical and regional situations, defence procurement - more than ever - is now seen as a priority."

While the war in Ukraine has complicated Algeria's relationship with Russia, the ensuing price increase of gas and oil has "significantly boosted the revenues" of Algiers, Ghebouli told Middle East Eye.

"This now allows more manoeuvring room for additional spending that was not possible before," he said.

Energy earnings

Algeria continues to benefit significantly from Russia's stand-off with the West. The country's oil and gas earnings are up more than 70 percent, reaching $21.5bn in the first five months of 2022, compared to $12.6bn in the same period last year.

Flush with cash, Algerian authorities have proposed to increase defence spending from $10bn in 2022 to $23 billion in 2023, a 130 percent increase. 

But Algeria may find it difficult to wean itself off its Russian military habit. 

"Despite the efforts of Algerian authorities to drift away from the Russian defence industry, it may be hard to receive the same preferential treatment as Algerians enjoyed with Russians," said Ghebouli. 

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It is unclear how much Russia will be able to service and maintain equipment sold to Algeria given its focus on Ukraine and the need to replenish the vast amount of equipment lost. 

As Algeria looks towards probing other countries for potential military purchases, Ghebouli warns that this might be a difficult learning curve for the country's military. 

"It is debatable whether European or American defence contractors will be able to sell their weapons to Algeria without the famous end-user licence agreement that has so far allowed Algiers to use weapons as it sees fit," said Ghebouli

Many western military contractors place limitations on how and where their military hardware can be used through end-user licence agreements, a requirement that Russia largely eschews. 

"I believe it is more likely that negotiations will lead to important knowledge transfer rather than significant arms deals," said Ghebouli about the kind of meetings that Algeria held with Italy on Monday.

"Russia is set to remain the primary arms supplier for Algeria in the short to medium term." 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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