|Russia writes off $4.7 billion of Algeria's debts|
|Russia is erasing Algeria's estimated $4.7 billion to Moscow, according to a document signed Friday during a short visit to Algeria by President Vladimir Putin, Russian agencies said.
The figure, about a quarter of Algeria's external debt which amounted to $16 billion at the start of this year, was accumulated by Algeria in the 1960s and 1970s.
The document was signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Algerian counterpart Mohammad Bedjaoui, the RIA Novosti agency said.
Algeria has also signed a deal to buy more than $3.5 billion worth of military planes from Russia, the head of Russia's aviation company MIG said in Algiers, speaking to Russian television.
"I'm not giving away a big secret when I say that we signed a significant series of contracts for the planes," MIG managing director Alexei Fedorov told Rossia television, putting the value of the sale at "all told, more than $3.5 billion".
Putin's visit the first by a Russian leader to Algeria since Soviet times, when ties between Moscow and Algiers were close and comes as Russia pursues an active diplomatic campaign on the Middle East. Putin was greeted at Algiers international airport by President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika.
The Kommersant daily had reported "complications" in talks between the two countries on the deal to purchase Russian military hardware in exchange for writing off Algeria's debts.
The Russian delegation was also expected to sign 14 contracts worth a total of $1 billion, according to the Algerian state news agency APS. Russia's Gazprom natural gas company and the Lukoil oil concern were among those expecting to sign deals, according to Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko.
Prikhodko said Algeria was ready for major purchases in aviation, air defense and naval arms, and for deals to modernize existing weaponry, according to ITAR-Tass.
Putin and Bouteflika also discussed the so-called "road map" for peace, as well as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, Prikhodko said.
Russian media previously reported that contracts for the delivery of 40 MiG-29SMT Fulcrum fighters, 20 Su-30 MK Flanker fighters, 16 Yak-130 Mitten combat trainers, eight battalions of S-300 PMU2 Favorite air-defense systems and 40 T-90 main battle tanks had been initialed before Putin's visit.
Algeria was a leading Soviet-era customer for Russian weaponry and it became one of Moscow's largest debtors.
A third of the debt may be forgiven or converted into stakes in publicly listed Algerian companies, APS reported.
Putin was also expected to pledge support for Africa from the G-8, Prikhodko said.
Bouteflika went to Russia in April 2001 and signed a "strategic partnership" deal.
Total trade between the two countries was worth some $364 million in 2005, according to Algerian official figures.
Putin is keen to restore Russia's role as a global diplomatic heavyweight and boost its standing in the Arab world.
His invitation to Hamas for talks last month and an offer to enrich Iran's uranium to help defuse a diplomatic crisis have won him praise in Arab countries.
Alexei Arbatov, a Middle East expert at Moscow's Institute of World Economy and International Affairs, said Russia wants to become a middleman between the West and the Islamic world.
Beirut,03 13 2006
The Daily Star