Since the war in Ukraine unfolded in February, Europe has sought to wean itself from its dependency on Russian natural gas and oil and replace it with other reliable energy suppliers. Although some European countries seem hesitant to do so, Italy, France, Greece, Bulgaria, and Spain have already held negotiations with potential energy suppliers such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria. This could be Algeria’s golden moment to carve out a more significant share of the continent’s energy market.

Italy and the US have demonstrated a serious commitment to diversifying energy sources away from Russia.

The two high-level official visits paid recently by the US State Secretary Anthony Blinken and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to Algeria demonstrate the Western countries’ serious commitment to promptly diversifying energy sources away from Russia. Since the eruption of the Ukraine war, the US has turned to North African and Middle Eastern countries –– namely Libya and Algeria –– to increase their gas production to the European market. Libya, as Africa’s leading oil producer with sizeable natural gas reserves, is keen to ink a new deal with the EU for energy supply, but the country is currently marred by a bitter sectarian war and unsustainable governance and has Russian mercenaries on its soil, making it a less desirable energy partner for the EU.

The US has played a direct role in bolstering Europe’s gas supplies by increasing its shipments of liquefied natural gas to the continent, reaching two-thirds of US export volumes in the early 2022. The Biden administration clearly seeks to pull Russian energy giant Gazprom out of the European market.

Algeria is one of the world’s biggest natural gas producers.

Algeria is one of the world’s biggest natural gas producers, and seems to be a more reliable potential LNG supplier. Technically, Algeria is able to increase the export of gas volumes to Europe through existing pipelines and interconnectors running through Italy and Spain. According to the Middle East Monitor, the current gas volume capacity delivered to Europe via the TransMed pipeline is estimated at around 22 billion cubic meters (bcm), with the capability of exporting an additional ten bcm. The MedGaz undersea pipeline, which connects Algeria to Spain, has a current capacity of 8 bcm.

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However, there are some additional technical and political concerns that need to be addressed before Algeria could replace Russia as an energy supplier. First of all, Algeria still maintains a very close relationship with Russia as its largest regional arms importer. Algeria has also not made any statement condemning the violent actions of its long-term ally in Ukraine. Furthermore, any energy deal between Algeria and the EU to purchase Algerian LNG might inadvertently circle back to the Russian economy, which could raise additional questions in the potential future partnership.

Considering that more EU countries may need to import Algerian natural gas soon, it is becoming evident that the existing pipeline infrastructure linking Algeria to Europe will be insufficient to transport such a vast amount of natural gas, especially compared to the substantial volumes of natural gas Russia delivers. This solution looks even more far-fetched amid the EU’s suspension of LNG export through Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines, which could lead to a 40 percent reduction in Europe’s gas imports in 2022-2024. In such a scenario, Algeria would need to mobilize additional gas reserves in order to meet the demands of the European market by the end of 2022. As of today, the country does not have enough additional gas to make available imminently to the market.

Officials assured that Algeria could export the necessary volumes of natural gas by the end of this year.

Nevertheless, Algerian officials assured their European neighbors, particularly Italy and Spain, that Algeria could export the necessary volumes of natural gas by the end of this year. However, Algeria has been facing both increased domestic demands for LNG reserves and mounting political instability since 2019. Moreover, countries like Algeria and Libya are unlikely to give up their relations with sanctions-stricken Russia, even amid the current complicated security cataclysms. Instead, both may seek opportunities for maneuvering between Europe and Russia for more political dividends.

Simultaneously, Algeria seems reluctant to decline the EU’s energy partnership offer as it wants to take the advantage of skyrocketing energy prices in the global market and revive its unstable economy. With such cooperation, however, Algeria might try to get new concessions on politically sensitive issues, such as the Western Sahara problem. The issue has strained relations between Algeria and Morocco since the 1970s, with Algiers providing full support to the insurgent Polisario Front in its relentless offensive against Morocco.

Tense relations between Algeria and Morocco over the Western Sahara also could challenge the upcoming energy cooperation between Algiers and the EU. Notwithstanding, the recently established National Energy Council in Algeria, which aims to coordinate hydrocarbon policies, demonstrates the country’s serious plans to ink a new energy deal with the EU and shortly begin providing the continent with additional gas volumes despite the apparent political dilemmas.