When the Russian-Ukrainian war broke out on 24 February 2022, Algeria announced that it would adopt a foreign policy based on non-intervention in conflict. It accused certain elements, which it did not name, of trying to drag Algeria into the war in Ukraine and affirmed that its priority was to protect its own nationals abroad. In doing so, Algeria aims to pursue a policy approach that maintains equilibrium between different international alliances, especially given its strategic ties with various parties to the conflict—both the West (including the US and Europe) and Russia. It seems that in pursuing this approach Algeria has tried to hold onto its decades-old foreign policy, while also endeavoring to achieve strategic aims that serve its interests, rekindle various alliances, and maximize what the country stands to gain from the crisis.
Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Algeria has adopted an approach that maintains balance between different parties to the crisis in order to ensure its non-alignment and to maximize its foreign policy gains. The most important elements of this strategy are as follows:
1. Avoiding intensive involvement in the crisis: Algeria did not announce an official stance on the war in Ukraine until almost two weeks after war had broken out. On 6 March 2022, Abdelhamid Abdaoui, director of communications in the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced that Algeria had a policy of non-intervention in conflict scenarios. He accused certain entities, which he did not name, of trying to sweep Algeria into the conflict. Abdaoui emphasized that the Algerian government’s priority was to protect its nationals abroad. This stance was consistent with decades-old Algerian foreign policy approaches, namely, of non-alignment as a cornerstone of foreign policy. This principle was adopted during the 1973 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was held in Algeria. Algeria was also a member of the group formed by the Arab League to deal with the crisis in Ukraine.
2. Abstaining from voting against Russia at the UN: Algeria was one of 35 countries that abstained from voting on the UN General Assembly’s March 2022 resolution condemning the Russian military operations in Ukraine. Algeria defended its decision to abstain on the basis that it would firmly abide by the principles of the UN charter, which constitutes the basis of international law and cornerstone of international relations. It emphasized that the charter provided for respecting the independence of nations and the sovereignty of their territory, in accordance with international law and the right of peoples to self-determination. The Algerian envoy to the UN added that this stance was consistent with Algeria’s support for strengthening and protecting a multipolar world order. He added that it aligned with Algeria’s commitment to developing close ties among nations to further peaceful coexistence, conflict resolution, and mutual respect for international treaties and security assurances.
In April 2022, Algeria opposed the UN General Assembly resolution on suspending Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council. Algeria justified this decision on the grounds that multilateral international cooperation requires bolstering dialogue and preventing the exclusion of any party. It added that suspending the membership of any voting member state within an international organization or UN body would not contribute to furthering a culture of multilateral collaboration and cooperation.
3. Refusing to join Western sanctions against Moscow: In accordance with its initial position on the conflict, Algeria did not join Western sanctions against Moscow. It chose not to become involved in the international isolation of Russia and even welcomed the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs for a visit in May 2022. During this visit, the Russian minister expressed Russia’s appreciation for the Algerian stance on the war in Ukraine at both the regional and international level. During talks with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra, Lavrov said that Russia hoped to expand cooperation with Algeria and had briefed Lamamra on the details of the military operation in Ukraine. Lavrov indicated that Russia was doing its best to prevent the emergence of a unipolar world order.
4. Maintaining relations with Ukraine and the West: Based on this principle of maintaining a cautious equilibrium in dealing with the Ukrainian crisis, Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra spoke on the telephone with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on 7 May 2022. During the call, the two discussed bilateral relations and international efforts to stop the war as well as its repercussions for global food security. Lamamra said in a tweet that the talks had been "constructive" and that the two had discussed "preserving global food security" in light of the crisis in Ukraine. The two ministers met again on 25 September 2022 during UN General Assembly sessions and discussed pathways for strengthening the strategic partnership between the two countries.
In early September, President of the European Council Charles Michel also visited Algeria. During the trip, Michel met with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the two discussed various issues, especially Algeria’s capacity to supply natural gas to Europe. This trip took place ten days after French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Algeria and only weeks after another visit by former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. These visits focused in particular on the war in Ukraine and the global energy and food crises. The talks with Western countries are part of Algeria’s efforts to balance relations with the West and Russia and exemplify Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s attempts to diversify foreign partnerships and avoid becoming dependent on one side or the other.
Algeria has aimed to pursue a balanced approach to the war in Ukraine in order to maximize its foreign policy benefits. It has done so through pursuing the following:
1. Strengthening energy partnerships between Algeria and Europe: After the Russian-Ukrainian war erupted, European countries turned to Algeria as a secure source of energy given Algeria’s huge energy reserves and its geographic proximity to Europe. Algeria is the third largest supplier of natural gas to the European Union. On 11 October 2022, the European Union’s Energy Commissioner, Kadri Simson, stated that Europe hoped to pursue a "long-term strategic partnership" with Algeria as a reliable supplier of gas to Europe. Simson said in her closing remarks at the Algeria-EU Energy Business Forum that Algeria was an important and reliable supplier of natural gas to the EU and that since "the relationship with Russia, so far [the] EU’s biggest gas supplier, is irreversibly broken, we are turning to the EU’s reliable suppliers to fill in the gap."
These statements from Europe are consistent with Algerian energy aspirations, since Algerian officials have said on more than one occasion that the country hopes to expand its partnership with Europe so that Algeria could benefit from such ties to the greatest extent possible. In other words, Algeria does not necessarily see this partnership as a temporary solution contingent on current circumstances, but rather as part of a comprehensive long-term strategy. According to a BBC report on 19 October 2022, Algeria is set to export 10 billion additional cubic meters of gas to Europe. However, Algeria hopes this partnership will develop into other areas such as exporting green electricity, which would enable the country to profit further, especially given the rising price of energy.
2. Diversifying foreign alliances: Those following the evolving Algerian position on the war will understand that this stance is consistent with Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s foreign policy as a whole. He has primarily pursued the diversification of foreign alliances to move beyond dependency on Western powers, especially France, which was the main policy under former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Algeria has aimed to pursue military rapprochement with Russia and recently participated in tactical exercises involving the two countries in October. This was in preparation for important "Desert Shield" maneuvers to be carried out next month near the border with Morocco. Last month, Algeria also sent nearly 100 soldiers to participate in Russia’s Vostok 2022 military drills, which are held in the easternmost part of Russia. Moscow’s closest allies participate annually in these exercises.
In recent years, Algeria has become a key importer of Russian weapons. In the last year, Algeria signed arms deals with Russia worth more than 7 billion dollars, and Russia has also given Algeria fighter planes that it has not sent to other countries, such as the Sukhoi 57.
However, it is worth noting that at the same time as these military activities with Russia, Algeria has also been holding joint military drills with a US destroyer that is docked at the port of Jijel in eastern Algeria. The Algerian Ministry of Defense said that the joint drills were held on 14 to 19 September to share expertise on clearing landmines. On 5 October, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke on the phone with his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Berlin affirmed during these talks that it wished to step up relations with Algeria.
3. Developing relations with Western countries: Algeria’s stance on the Ukrainian crisis must be understood within the context of Algerian relations with the West. It seems that Algeria is using the Ukrainian crisis and its aftermath, as well as its relations with Russia, to deal with relations with Western countries, particularly in light of recent tensions in Algerian-French relations.
Russia is also an important issue in Algeria’s relations with the US, especially because Algeria feels that Washington has taken a pro-Moroccan stance in recent years. Algeria has at times been criticized by US politicians. For example, on 29 September 2022, 27 members of the US Congress, led by Republican representative Lisa McClain, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking him to invoke the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which Congress had passed in 2017, in order to impose sanctions on Algeria because of its military cooperation with Russia.
4. Making the most of the Russian involvement in the Arab region: Algeria seems to be trying to utilize its relationship with Moscow to deal with key issues in the region. This includes the dispute over the Western Sahara. Algeria has endeavored to use Russia’s involvement as a balancing force against other countries in the Western Sahara dispute, especially since in recent months countries such as Spain had expressed support for Morocco’s position on the issue. It seems that there is also agreement between Moscow and Algeria on the need to reintegrate the Syrian regime into the Arab political arena.
5. Bolstering Algeria’s regional and international standing: One of the main aims of Algerian foreign policy under Abdelmadjid Tebboune has been to try to restore Algeria’s standing at the regional and international level, particularly in light of volatile conditions in neighboring countries. The fallout of the Russian-Ukraine war, especially in the energy sphere, has made Algeria a focal point for many international powers. Algeria has therefore been careful to deal with the war in Ukraine in a proactive but also balanced manner, and has prioritized political solutions, which has bolstered its own standing.
In conclusion, Algeria has utilized the Russian-Ukrainian war to further its own expansion in the international political sphere, especially since it has become a key reliable energy supplier for Western countries due to its significant energy reserves. Algeria has been able to provide an alternative to Russian gas and has succeeded in using the war in Ukraine to steer its relations with the West, especially with countries with which it had tense relations in recent years.