Home Morocco World News Morocco-Russia relations: who is in more need of the other?

Morocco-Russia relations: who is in more need of the other?

Moscow – Moroccan-Russian bilateral relations have historically been marked by mutual respect with regard to diplomacy and economic issues. Notwithstanding their historical good relations, the two countries now aspire to improve their relations even further to the maximum level of cooperation, notably in areas of trade, agriculture and tourism.

Bilateral relations between Morocco and Russia date back to the 18th century, when Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah and Queen Catherine II exchanged letters setting forth areas of mutual interest, encompassing primarily the establishment of commercial ties, and enabling Russian vessels to have access to Moroccan shores for fishing. Since then, ties between Russia and Morocco have remained strong, despite the many political and economic changes that both countries have experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In recent years, and particularly the past five years, there have been significant indicia leading to an increase in proximity between the Russian federation and the Kingdom of Morocco, even though their international relations with other parts of the world have experienced major fluctuations reflected in incidents and events that have affected both countries. Economic sanctions against Russia and the evolution of the debate over the Moroccan Sahara are among other the factors that explain the increasing strategic proximity between the two countries.

For Morocco, the inclination towards stronger relations with Russia has been frequently pointed out by several officials, through direct meetings as well as via official utterances. King Mohamed VI has officially declared in several speeches the intention of his country to reinforce cooperation with Russia, in terms of investment, trade and tourism. On the 15th anniversary of Mohamed VI’s coronation on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, the King announced Morocco’s commitment to fostering stronger ties with Russia, as well as China. He stated:  “To further promote our open policy and diversify Morocco’s partnership relations, I am also keen to strengthen the Kingdom’s time-honored ties with both the Russian Federation and the Republic of China – countries that I look forward to visiting in the near future.”

The King reiterated his intention in his speech on August 20, 2014, on the 61st anniversary of the King and People’s Revolution Day. The King had even planned to visit Moscow more than 12 years after his last visit in 2002, but that plan was scuttled due to technicalities. Moroccan officials have recently visited Russia for diplomatic, economic and cultural purposes. This new trend in bilateral relations was confirmed when Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Salaheddine Mezouar, met on July 3, 2014, with his Russian counterpart Sreguei Lavrov, handing him a letter from King Mohammed VI addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia, on the other hand, has paid little diplomatic attention to Morocco individually, although it has sometimes focused its foreign policy on North Africa as a whole without pointing to a particular country. Nonetheless, Russia has demonstrates its high esteem for Morocco, considering it a model in the MENA region, and acknowledging the mutually beneficial business ties, while aspiring to a stronger partnership in this area. In a message to King Mohammed VI on March 9, 2012, the former Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, expressed his satisfaction with the current relations between Rabat and Moscow, thanks to “The Intergovernmental Commission that plays a significant role in fostering mutually beneficial business ties.” He also applauded Morocco’s efforts in the international arena, including promoting stability and security in the MENA region. The last visit of a high Russian official to Morocco dates back to 2006, when Vladimir Putin made an official visit to Rabat.

It is evident that both countries aspire to more cooperation in the areas of diplomacy and the economy, but there may be some significant constraints which may decelerate their cooperation efforts, such as current global politics.  The EU bloc and the United States have an immense influence over Morocco, notably in business, education and politics, which has resulted from its geographical proximity with Europe, as well as the impact of the French protectorate system on Moroccan society. The EU’s influence on Morocco reflects its foreign policy, which is dependent on the West’s values and attitudes all over the world.

Now as the ideological dichotomy between Russia and the West is diverging more and more, allies of both superpowers may find themselves in a turning point. That is, The MENA region has traditionally followed either Russia’s attitudes (for example, Syria) or the West’s liberal norms (North Africa, for instance). Hence, Morocco may find it difficult to go on a fast pace concerning its relations with Russia, and may find itself obliged to wait until Russia and the West’s relations are normalized once again. Russian Ambassador to Rabat, Mr Valery Vorobiev, referred to this issue at the Russian Ambassador’s conference in Moscow in July 2014. He noted that the United States and France had started to question Morocco over its recent inclination towards Russia. He said that, “Morocco’s response included no intention of cutting off its relations with them, but that its new foreign policy seeks diversification and balance.”

It is still early to presume who is in need of the other, but the answer requires deep analysis of all external and internal factors affecting both countries. However, it seems that Morocco is driven by a variety of issues to address, and the issue of the so-called Western Sahara takes prominence, with respect to which the kingdom seeks diplomatic bonuses. Russia could thus be a promising choice regarding potential support for Morocco’s stance on the issue. On the other side, the Russian federation commands considerable respect in the global arena, influencing effectively a number of issues around the world. EU and US sanctions could create a passing crisis in terms of international cooperation and the national economy of Russia, but alternative choices for assistance are at Russia’s disposal, including the other members of the BRICs bloc. Morocco, for example, could be used as one of those options along with Egypt and Turkey for substituting EU’s banned agricultural exports.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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