Algeria plays balancing act as Europe tries cut Russian gas | Russia-Ukraine war News

Because the Russia-Ukraine conflict rages on, European Union members are going through a slew of power safety dilemmas.

Depending on Russia for 40 % of its fuel imports, Italy is trying to cut back this reliance – and shortly – by turning to different international locations whereas accelerating its transfer in the direction of renewables.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the pinnacle of the Italian multinational oil and fuel firm ENI travelled to Algeria in April to signal a preliminary power deal.

Then, final month, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune visited Rome to finalise ENI’s settlement with Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach.

Below the settlement, Algeria is to step by step enhance fuel flows to Italy by way of the Transmed pipeline.

Whereas Algeria can finally play a helpful position in serving to Italy cut back its dependence on Russian fuel, Italian policymakers have a number of obstacles to beat.

In 2010, Algeria was Italy’s prime fuel provider however because the North African nation needed to meet rising home demand, exports to Italy have since dropped.

In 2013, Russia grew to become Italy’s primary fuel provider, offering Italy with twice as a lot fuel as Algeria did.

Final yr, Russia equipped Italy with 28.988 billion cubic metres (bcm) of fuel, in contrast with Algeria’s 22.584bcm.

Algeria might reroute exports to assist Italy and different European international locations wishing to wean themselves off Russian fuel, a transfer made easier given Tunisian imports of Algerian fuel have decreased with Algiers making exports to Italy the next precedence.

But Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa challenge director for the Worldwide Disaster Group, instructed Al Jazeera that technical, reasonably than political, hurdles imply Algeria can in all probability, at most, reroute solely 5-10bcm to Italy and the remainder of Europe.

“Home demand for fuel continues to rise in a short time and there aren’t any important new tasks coming on-line within the subsequent years that might enhance [Algeria’s] manufacturing. If something, whole fuel manufacturing is more likely to barely lower as strain at previous fields diminishes,” mentioned Fabiani.

The dynamics ensuing from elevated East-West bifurcation might put extra strain on Algeria to navigate the Ukrainian battle fastidiously, in opposition to the backdrop of the Algiers-Moscow partnership.

There might be rising issues in Europe about future fuel imports from Algeria benefitting Moscow, contemplating the North African nation’s important navy purchases from Russia.

Finally, Algeria, a rustic which prioritises overseas coverage independence, is making an attempt to strike a fragile stability in boosting power exports to EU international locations whereas sustaining its defence relationship and strategic partnership with Moscow.

Since February 24, Algerian officers have sought to maintain a level of equidistance between the West and Russia.

For instance, in early Could, Russia’s chief diplomat Sergey Lavrov travelled to Algeria simply earlier than Lieutenant Normal Hans Werner Wiermann, head of the NATO Worldwide Army Workers, paid a go to.

As a regional heavyweight and former colony, Algeria doesn’t take nicely to orders from different capitals.

“The roots of this balancing act have to be discovered within the non-alignment motion, the place Algeria was on the forefront, which additionally appears a protected overseas coverage selection for a lot of international locations within the Maghreb and the creating world – a 3rd solution to escape the spiralling and polarisation stemming from the battle in Ukraine,” Umberto Profazio, an affiliate fellow on the Worldwide Institute for Strategic Research and Maghreb analyst on the NATO Defence School Basis, instructed Al Jazeera.

The battle for Africa’s final colony

A stronger Algerian-Italian power relationship has ramifications for the Maghreb and Southern Europe.

Final yr, President Tebboune halted fuel flows from his nation to Spain by way of Morocco amid an intense row.

On June 8, Algeria suspended its 2002 treaty of friendship and cooperation with Spain in response to Madrid endorsing Morocco’s 2007 autonomy plan for Western Sahara in March. That had been a transfer Spain made to fix fences with Morocco after bilateral relations suffered when the Polisario’s Brahim Ghali obtained COVID-19 therapy in a Spanish hospital in April 2021, and the following Ceuta disaster.

Will Algeria attempt to use power to strain European governments into adopting more and more Algeria-aligned positions on Western Sahara?

“Algeria desires to be heard and considered by its European counterparts, which have been beneath rising strain from Morocco to renegotiate their relations and assessment their positions on Western Sahara,” mentioned Fabiani.

“Vitality is certainly a supply of leverage for Algeria and Moroccan diplomats recognise that they can not count on all Algerian gas-dependent international locations in Europe to undertake [Rabat’s] stance on this battle, which is why there may be little strain on Italy, for instance, to alter its place on Western Sahara.”

Nonetheless, Algeria’s leverage over European international locations vis-à-vis Western Sahara has limits.

If Algiers would try to “blackmail” its consumers to alter positions on Western Sahara, it might threat jeopardising its position as a dependable power supplier, in keeping with Fabiani.

“European governments want reliable power exporters and are unlikely to tolerate any blatant exploitation of power ties for political functions.”

Whereas turning to Algeria for a strengthened power relationship, Rome will doubtless need to pay extra consideration to Western Sahara, being cautious to not upset neither Algiers nor Rabat.

“Italy has not taken a definitive place on the Western Sahara file in order to have the ability to transfer extra freely than Spain in relations with Morocco and Algeria,” mentioned Giuseppe Dentice, the pinnacle of the MENA Desk on the Heart for Worldwide Research and instructing assistant on the Catholic College of the Sacred Coronary heart in Milan.

Supporting the Polisario is a cornerstone of Algeria’s overseas coverage whereas Morocco views the Western Sahara battle as its existential difficulty. However for Italy, this dispute will in all probability change into a diplomatic headache greater than anything.

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