Jun 10, 2022
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Africans help Russia in gas dispute with Europe

The gas crisis in the European Union is getting worse. One of the largest EU countries, Spain, is on the verge of a sharp reduction in gas supplies from Africa. Why is Algeria offended by Spain, what does territorial disputes have to do with it – and how is what is happening in a special way demonstrating European Russophobia?

Since 2002, when Spain and Algeria signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, these two states have lived in perfect harmony. The stumbling block or bone of contention, if you like, between neighbors (across the Mediterranean Sea) was the territory called Western Sahara.

A little background. Western Sahara between 1958 and 1976 belonged to Spain. In October 1975, the Moroccan King Hassan II, taking advantage of the “situation of uncertainty and uncertainty” that arose in Spain due to the death of dictator Francisco Franco (died 11/20/1975), peacefully seized the territory of the AP in favor of Rabat.

The monarch organized a “strategic peaceful demonstration” dubbed the “Green March”. The demonstration was attended by 350 thousand unarmed people waving the Koran (the color of Islam is green, hence the name of the march) and shouting “give us back the Moroccan Sahara!” The Spanish military did not open fire to avoid bloodshed. Following the peaceful demonstrators, the Moroccan military entered the region, thus actually occupying, and formally “returning to Morocco part of its ancestral lands.”

Currently, approximately 80% of Western Sahara is controlled by Rabat.

Another 20% is in the hands of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Seguiet el Hamra and Rio de Oro – the POLISARIO Front (Spanish: Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro – POLISARIO). The leaders of the Front called the territory controlled by POLISARIO the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and demand “to free the rest of the AP from the Moroccan presence” by holding a popular referendum. The UN is also in favor of the referendum, but this does not make any impression on Morocco.

In 2007, Rabat announced his desire to “grant limited autonomy to Western Sahara”, but on the condition that the SADR, whose territory is rich in phosphates and fish stocks, was part of Morocco. Until March 2022, Spain shared the position of the UN, which also coincided with the position of Algeria, which actively supports the POLISARIO and the idea of ​​the sovereignization of Western Sahara.

The Spanish-Algerian agreement of 2002 allowed the development of trade between the two countries. This trade was beneficial mainly to the Spaniards, who received from Algeria up to 50% of the country’s annual gas needs.

Everything was going great until April 2021, when Spain accepted for treatment for Covid-19 (according to other sources – from a malignant tumor) the leader of the POLISARIO and the head of the SADR, Brahim Ghali. The politician arrived in the Iberian kingdom “in accordance with the invitation of the Spanish government, motivated by humanitarian considerations” and, according to El País, “was hospitalized in one of the hospitals of the city of Logroño under an assumed name.”

After the procedures, the African politician “departed for his homeland in good physical condition.” What could not be said about the relations between Spain and Morocco. In Rabat, they were very offended by Madrid and found a way to express their displeasure in such a way that the Spaniards would be as unpleasant as possible.

As you know, Spain has a couple of enclaves on the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea – Melilla and Ceuta, bordering Morocco. The Civil Guard forces of these cities are forced from time to time to repel attempts by illegal immigrants to penetrate Spanish territory.

Every time after another immigrant conflict, Madrid and Rabat negotiate to prevent the recurrence of African attacks on the Spanish border. This routine process, which has been going on for more than one year, received an unexpectedly sharp development a few months after the cure of Brahim Ghali. From the territory of Morocco, Ceuta was attacked not by the usual couple of hundreds of “future Spaniards”, but by a wave numbering, according to France24, up to 10,000 participants.

At the same time, the Moroccan security forces, instead of detaining migrants and dispersing their crowd, looked the other way with demonstrative interest. It was this attack, which exacerbated the problem of illegal immigrants, which Spain chronically suffers from, and forced Moncloa Palace (the seat of the Spanish government) in March of this year to take a different look at the idea of ​​limited autonomy for Western Sahara and speak out in support of Morocco.

Algeria reacted immediately by withdrawing its ambassador from Madrid for consultations. According to non-Spanish media, the Algerian ambassador has not yet returned to Madrid. In April 2022, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, during an official visit to Morocco, confirmed the position voiced in March by his government.

Why did Algeria react to the Spanish demarche only at the beginning of June, that is, with an almost two-month delay? Experts believe that it’s all about the gas.

Just in April, Algeria was negotiating with Rome on the supply of blue fuel to Italy. Even then it was clear that the annual 9 billion cubic meters that the Apennines need, the North Africans will be able to pump only if the right amount of product is released somewhere. It took time to negotiate, agree, sign, ratify – now Algeria knows for sure that it has someone to sell the freed gas to.

For reference. Between January and July 2021 (latest available data), Spain imported €2.237 billion worth of goods from Algeria, most of which was paid for gas (according to ICEX, 92% of this amount was for fuel and oil products). For its part, Algeria imported from Spain goods worth about 1.1 billion euros.

The contracts of Algerian state gas company Sonatrach with Spanish enterprises are close to expiration and should be renewed. They should, but whether they will is the big question.

In particular, for Spain, which will have to try to patch up the resulting “Algerian hole”. There is no free gas on the market, and American LNG with “freedom molecules” cannot be counted on. But bowing to Russia is not allowed by the policy proclaimed by the EU leadership aimed at abandoning Russian hydrocarbons.

True, according to anonymous sources in Spanish companies involved in the sale of fossil raw materials, “the most advanced enterprises manage to purchase Russian gas through Qatar. You have to pay more for blue fuel, but on the other hand, it is already called Middle Eastern, not Russian.”

Commenting on the prospect of being left without Algerian gas, Moncloa expressed the hope that “African partners will continue to fulfill their contractual obligations.” However, according to El Mundo, the Association of Banks and Financial Institutions (Abef) has issued a directive to financial institutions in this country to freeze, as of June 9, direct debit transactions for all foreign trade transactions with products with Spanish origin and / or direction to Spain. Which actually means a complete halt in trade between the two countries, and hence a halt in gas supplies. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albarez responded that “Spain will give a calm, dignified and reasoned response. We will protect both ourselves and the EU in this situation.”

The remark of the Foreign Minister from Madrid looks like nothing more than a routine comment. Spain has no real leverage on Algeria today. And the North Africans, on the contrary, have before their eyes a living example that the Pyrenean kingdom can be bent in the right direction (an example is the situation described above with the invasion of 10 thousand illegal immigrants to Ceuta). We only need to remind Madrid that it needs Algeria much more than Algeria needs Spain.

Interestingly, it never occurred to anyone in the European Union to call Algeria’s actions blackmail. But before us is an undoubted picture of how gas is used as an instrument of political pressure. Even now, in the midst of hostilities in Ukraine, Russia in every possible way emphasizes its intention to firmly fulfill contracts for the supply of gas to Europe. The conflict between Spain and Algeria – and the reaction to it in the EU leadership – once again demonstrates double standards, and prejudices, and Russophobia of the European Union. Africans are treated there with much less prejudice than Russians.

And, of course, if it comes to a real shutdown of the gas supply to Spain from Algeria, this will again cause an explosive rise in prices in the European gas market. Including gas supplied from Russia. Thus, it can be said that Algeria, a longtime ally of Russia in Africa, this time again plays into the interests of our country in one way or another.

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