Algeria defends neutral stance in Russia-Ukraine conflict

Ramtane Lamamra

Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra (second left) talks to delegates at Crowne Plaza in Helsinki on June 14, 2022 after a press conference following the Nordic-African Foreign Affairs Ministers’ meeting.

Photo credit: Valerie Koga | Nation Media Group

Algeria says its abstention from taking sides in a UN General Assembly vote on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could help resolve the conflict that has seen the world suffer from an increasing rise in the cost of food.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra told a news conference on Tuesday his country has chosen to refrain from indicting Russia’s invasion because it wants to cultivate a conducive environment for dialogue to end the war.

“The main question when you are faced with a complex situation is…whether you risk being part of the problem or by certain position and posture you can still be able to be part of the solution.

“And you ponder your choices, your options; and you reach the conclusion based on your own history, based on your track record as an actor in international relations that it is better to cast a certain vote rather than another.”

Minister Lamamra spoke in Helsinki, Finland, on the sidelines of Nordic-African Foreign Ministers’ meeting, a traditional gathering of African ministers and Finnish officials on international cooperation, held annually.

This was the 19th such meeting and Algeria will be the host of the 20th. But the Minister used the occasion to explain his country’s decision to avoid condemning Russia which invaded Ukraine in February.

Some 141 out of the 193 member states of the UN voted for the resolution, while 35 countries, including 17 African countries abstained from voting during the historic session of the Assembly back in March. Three countries—Eritrea, North Korea and Syria—voted against the resolution, while Ethiopia did not take part in the voting.

The Minister, however, says Algeria has been a major player in several global conflict resolution mechanisms in the past, adding that Algeria continues to rally for peaceful resolution of conflicts and disputes.

Algeria was behind the famous Algiers Agreement, which helped end the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000. The war had been caused by a border dispute and part of the agreement provided for the exchange of prisoners and establishment of a Boundary Commission to demarcate the border to determine location of border towns. The two countries remain hostile to one another until 2018 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted to hand over Badme town to Eritrea and obey the agreement.

Algeria had been at it before. In the early 1980s, Algiers was instrumental in mediating and negotiating for the release of more than 50 American hostages in Iran, under the Algiers Accord. The students had been taken hostage on November 4, 1979 when Iranian students seized the American embassy in Tehran and held them hostage for 444 days.

In the Russia-Ukraine war, Algeria called for more thought into actions taken, while saying that in some circumstances it is better to stand aside and let other actors lead the peace process.

“Questions that always come to mind [in conflicts] is whether there is someone somewhere who could help in pushing [for and] giving a chance to a peace process,” Mr Lamamra said.

He added that more thought could be given to “the Non-aligned movement to which my country belongs and is committed to,” referring to states who abstained from the UN vote on a resolution to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Perhaps time has come for the non-aligned movement to take responsibility and to offer their good offices in a balanced way while sticking strictly to the principles that made many of us moral actors on the international scene to make sure that there can be indeed a solution that could bring about lasting peace and good neighbourly relations to the two parties to this conflict.”

At the same time, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto said Helsinki supported the vote because it felt that it was “a moment when Ukraine needs solidarity and it is important that we play according to international rules at this moment, according to the UN Charter. Of course, countries chose their own positions.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was an eye-opener and exposed risk of attack. As a result, Nordic countries, specifically Finland and Sweden, were pushed to reevaluate their military strength and, after many years of keeping off military alliances, apply for NATO membership to strengthen their defences, the minister added.

“Russian attack against Ukraine triggered in Finland not only very strong solidarity towards Ukraine but very strong debate on our analysis of the current situation.

“Our neighbour Russia unfortunately now military-wise is unpredictable. And here in Finland we are always looking at things 100 years backwards and 100 years towards the future, we recognise some of the risks particularly linked to weapons of mass distraction, tactical weapons, nuclear weapons, where our own defence is not comprehensive. So we decided to send our application to the NATO…and this was also the reaction of Sweden.”


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