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Russian Support for Morocco on Western Sahara Illusory

Washington D.C. – Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council’s adoption of the draft resolution on the Western Sahara on Wednesday. While the move was not entirely unexpected, the Russian delegation asked for the vote to be deferred for several more days presumably to give it time to water down the language to avoid any anti-Polisario sentiment. The United States, the drafter of the resolution, circulated it to the members of the Security Council on Monday, with the vote scheduled two days later on Wednesday.

In echoes of last year, with this extra time, Russia will undoubtedly It will attempt to ensure that the final wording of the resolution contains a paragraph or a sentence describing Morocco has also contributed to the tension that erupted in the region in recent weeks.

In my analyses earlier this month of the conflict, I predicted that Russia would try to undermine the support that Morocco enjoys in the Security Council from certain allies and posited that the draft resolution would not be adopted on April 25 because of the lack of agreement between influential members of the Security Council over the wording of the resolution. More importantly, I argued that war would not break out between Morocco and the Polisario, and stressed that Morocco’s diplomatic campaign aims drive the narrative and discussions in its favor and persuade the Security Council to take a tough stance against the Polisario.

Regardless of the text of the resolution that the Security Council will vote upon tomorrow, Morocco has so far succeeded in undermining the Polisario’s attempts to deceive the international community as to its supposed eagerness to reach a mutually acceptable political solution in line with the Security Council resolutions adopted since 2007. Morocco has also succeeded in exposing the Polisario’s repeated violations of the cease-fire agreement and military agreement No. 1, as well as its attempts to change the status quo in the buffer zone and throughout the area located east of the security wall.

Morocco has also conveyed a clear message that there will be no direct negotiations to reach a final political solution to the dispute as long as Algeria is not called upon to participate actively in the negotiations as a key party to the conflict and the main supporter of the Polisario.

Algeria and Russia Relations Potentially Problematic

Notwithstanding these successes, it would be both naïve and reckless to believe that the rapprochement between Morocco and Russia in recent years and the signing of many agreements between the two countries would lead Moscow suddenly to become a reliable ally of Rabat and thus support Morocco’s position on the dispute. Such a belief would ignore and overlook the common strategic interests that bind Russia and Algeria, interests built over the decades since the Cold War.

No matter how close a rapprochement Morocco achieves with Russia, it cannot match the value of Russia’s military deals with Algeria. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Algeria was the third-largest customer for Russian arms between 2007 and 2016, and is now Africa’s largest importer of Russia weapons, absorbing 46% of Russia’s exports to the continent.

Since the signing of the strategic partnership between Russia and Algeria in 2001, relations between the two countries have developed significantly, especially in the military and security fields. For example, in 2006, the two countries signed a $7.5 billion deal under which Algeria acquired Russian weapons. The deal was considered to be the largest since the collapse of the former URSS. In addition, in 2016, Russia supplied Algeria with weapons worth $1.5 billion.

On the other hand, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, Russia has sought to revive the same geo-strategic rivalry that prevailed during the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States of America. Russia does not want to leave the United States free to influence the course of events in areas traditionally considered within the sphere of Western influence.

In the context of this geo-strategic rivalry, Russia might use the Western Sahara conflict as a means to check its Western rivals and to send a clear message to France and the United States that it is ready to do whatever is necessary to defend its interests and the interests of its allies. This strategic positioning was evident in Russia’s role in Ukraine, Georgia, Iran, and Syria, all countries that Russia has fought to keep under its sphere of influence in recent years.

Morocco can’t do without its traditional alliances

On the other hand, it would be misguided to think that Morocco could operate without the key role played by the United States in the dispute over the Western Sahara. Likewise, it would be an exaggeration to suggest that Moroccan-American relations have entered a period of stagnation since President Donald Trump took office. If that were the case, the U.S. president would not have signed for the second year in a row an appropriation bill allocating a portion of the U.S.’s financial assistance to Morocco expressly to the Western Sahara. By expressly allocating funds to the Western Sahara, the United States is tacitly acknowledging Morocco’s de facto sovereignty over the territory.

This support, however insufficient might be, is the result of the strong relations between the two countries and their advanced stage of maturity. Just as Russia and Algeria have built strong ties for decades, Morocco and the United States have forged a strong relationship at all levels since the 1777. Thanks to these historical relations spanning more than 240 years, Morocco has built bridges with many players in the sphereof successive American governments.

As a result of the strong ties between Morocco and the United States, whatever the level of disagreement there is at times between the two countries – for example, during the second term of former President Barack Obama’s administration — Morocco’s familiarity with the American psyche and the foreign policy establishment in Washington D.C., not to mention the support its enjoys among many members of Congress as a trusted and a reliable ally, have helped to overcome differences between the two countries and immunize their relations from deterioration.

The negotiation process in the Security Council this year has signified beyond all doubt that Morocco’s traditional alliances with France and the United States, as well as Spain, remain as important and critical as ever and that however, Morocco’s bilateral relations develop with Russia or even China, such relations will not be at the expense of its longstanding and solid relations with its traditional allies. Thus, as long as the Western Sahara dispute is on the agenda of the United Nations, Morocco must rely on its traditional alliances to defend its interests and to head off any developments or policy shifts that undermine its efforts to preserve its territorial integrity.

Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis

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