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Russia keeps plugging away at cooperation with North Africa

During his tour around the Maghreb, Foreign Minister Lavrov showed Russia has a genuine interest in developing stronger ties with regional states, but the number of roadblocks in the way raise questions about Moscow's ability to go past "strategic declarations" anytime soon.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita meets Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Morocco's capital Rabat, January 25, 2019.  REUTERS/Stringer - RC121B4F3DC0

From Jan. 23-26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov toured three nations of the Maghreb — Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia — for the first time since November 2005. The negotiations revolved around the issues of trade, economic cooperation and conflicts in Libya, Syria and Western Sahara.

The visit to Algeria — the sixth for Lavrov — was central to his North African tour. It took place a week before the session of the Russian-Algerian inter-governmental commission for trade and economic cooperation. The timing was a mere coincidence, though a symbolic one, as Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel pointed out during the final press conference. The ministers took their time discussing the prospects of economic partnership and agreed to arrange a negotiation venue for entrepreneurs from their countries. The economic interaction between Russia and Algeria appears to be developing: Since 2015, bilateral trade has doubled, reaching $4,6 billion in 2017. However, two-thirds of this sum consist of weapons and military equipment turnover, including the so-called associated products: engines, fuel, etc. For a partnership to be called “close,” mainly selling military hardware is not enough.

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