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The mirage of the exercises of Russia and Algeria vanishes in the desert | International

Algerian President Abdelmayid Tebun reviews troops on Independence Day, July 5 in Algiers.
Algerian President Abdelmayid Tebun reviews troops on Independence Day, July 5 in Algiers.Anadolu Agency (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Coinciding with the scheduled date for the completion of military exercises by Algeria and Russia organized near the border with Morocco, the Algerian Ministry of Defense has finally made it known that the maneuvers “have not taken place”. A laconic statement read on state television has caused the maneuvers of the Desert Shield anti-terrorist commando units to vanish like a mirage, the start of which had been set for November 16 seven months earlier.

Last September, Algerian forces participated in the similar Vostok 22 military training, in the Russian Far East, in the Sea of ​​Japan, together with 50,000 soldiers from various countries. In October, Russian Navy ships docked in the port of Algiers after taking part in naval exercises by the Algerian Navy. On November 10, shortly before the scheduled start of the Desert Shield exercise, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, General Said Chengriha, met in the Algerian capital with the director of the Russian military cooperation service, Dmitri Chugaev, responsible for the organization of maneuvers.

“This Russian-Algerian tactical exercise (Desert Shield) was planned within the framework of cooperation in the fight against terrorism,” read the statement broadcast on state television last Monday night. “However, it did not take place,” the Defense Ministry said without offering further details.

Although Algeria had not officially reported the start of these maneuvers, the Russian state agency Sputnik reported the launch of Escudo del Desierto on November 16, without Algiers rectifying the information at that time. The spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zajárova, had assured in October that Moscow’s military activities in the Maghreb, in which forces from the North Caucasus were to participate, consisted of “a regular exercise not directed against third countries”. , as reported by the Tass agency.

Two hundred soldiers, special forces and paratroopers from both countries planned to exercise in the search, detection and elimination of terrorist groups in desert areas at the Hammaguir maneuver field, located in the province of Bechar, more than 1,000 kilometers to the southwest of the Algerian capital, and a few tens of kilometers from the Moroccan border.

The province of Bechar, close to the Moroccan eastern desert, was the scene six decades ago of the so-called War of the Sands, waged by troops from Algeria and Morocco due to territorial disputes shortly after both countries achieved independence.

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The mirage of the maneuvers announced on the desert border coincides with an escalation of regional rearmament. Algeria has announced that it will increase its military budget by 130% in 2023 to reach 12% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), thanks to the economic boom derived from the rise in gas and oil prices, its main exports. .

Morocco is also preparing to launch its own arms industry with the construction of drones, predictably using Israeli technology, and expects to exceed 5% of GDP next year in defense spending. The military items of the European countries move in a range of between 2% and 4% of GDP.

The tension between Algeria and Morocco, which in 1994 closed their common land border, skyrocketed in 2021 with the rupture of diplomatic relations in a climate of cold war that now seems to fester. Russia is the main supplier of arms to the Algerian Armed Forces, which in turn are the third best customer of the Russian arms industry, after China and India.

The planned Russian maneuvers in Algeria had been seen in Rabat as a response to the US-led military deployment in the African Lion military exercises, which took place last June in Morocco. 7,500 soldiers from a dozen countries, including Israel, participated in this operation, according to Moroccan media information not confirmed by Africom, the US military command in the region.

Pressure from the US and the EU

The announcement of the Russian maneuvers on the Algerian border with Morocco has aroused diplomatic suspicions. From the United States Senate, Republican Marco Rubio addressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken two months ago along with other legislators to request the imposition of sanctions on Algiers for its massive purchases of Russian weapons, after denouncing that they were used to finance destabilizing actions of Moscow. From the European Parliament, 17 MEPs also addressed the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of Union diplomacy, Josep Borrell, considering that the rapprochement with Algiers implied support in the war in Ukraine.

The Algerian government refrained from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations. A visit to Moscow by the Algerian president, Abadelmayid Tebún, is also scheduled before the end of the year to seal a strategic alliance between the two countries and sign contracts for the purchase of weapons, including fighter-bombers poachers (undetectable by radar), for an amount greater than 10,000 million dollars.

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