Author: 
Guy Faulconbridge & Hamid Ould Ahmed, Reuters
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2006-03-11 03:00

MOSCOW/ALGIERS, 11 March 2006 — Algeria has agreed to buy $7.5 billion worth of combat planes, air-defense systems and other arms from Russia, the head of Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said yesterday.

Russia also agreed to write off $4.74 billion of Algeria’s Soviet-era debt during a visit by President Vladimir Putin to the North African oil-exporting country, the first by a Russian leader in half a century.

“The total figure of the contracts which we signed was for $7.5 billion,” Rosoboronexport chief Sergei Chemezov said in comments shown on Russian state television. It was unclear when the arms would be delivered.

“Practically all types of arms which we have are included, anti-missile systems, aviation, sea and land technology,” he said. “Russian technology is in no way inferior in quality to western (technology) but in price it is 15-20 percent cheaper.” Russia, one of the world’s leading arms exporters with annual sales of more than $5 billion, is seeking to boost arms sales by widening its client base. Most of Russian arms export currently goes to China, India and Southeast Asian states.

Algeria will buy 40 MiG-29 fighters, 20 Sukhoi-30 fighters, 16 Yak-130 training planes as well as 8 S-300 PMU2 Favorit rocket systems and about 40 tanks, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

A one-on-one meeting between Putin and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, scheduled to last for one hour, went on for more than 5 hours, Russia’s NTV television reported.

Algerian state radio confirmed the debt write-off and said the country would spend the same amount in return on buying goods and services from Russia, without mentioning the arms deal.

Putin is keen to restore Russia’s role as a global diplomatic heavyweight and boost its standing in the Arab world.

The two countries, both big gas suppliers, were also expected to sign an energy deal involving Algerian state oil and gas company Sonatrach and Russia’s Gazprom and Lukoil.

Gazprom head Alexei Miller, who was accompanying Putin, said yesterday his company and Sonatrach would seek to boost gas cooperation including liquefying gas for tanker shipments.

Moscow is seeking to benefit from huge investment opportunities in Algeria, whose trade exchanges with Russia were no more than $364 million last year against $8 billion with the United States.

Algeria, an OPEC member, is implementing an ambitious $80 billion five-year program billion aimed at boosting growth and drawing more investments as it recovers from a decade-long civil war.

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