afrol News, 14 October - Morocco's King Mohammed VI today landed in Moscow to meet with high Russian officials. During his stay, the King is expected to discuss trade and development issues, along with the political situation in the Middle East. Russia has developed into one of Morocco's main trade partners.
King Mohammed VI at arrival this evening was received by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov and taken to the Kremlin for political discussions. Issues high on the agenda are the US-Iraqi and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, according to Russian press reports.
The main issues however will be the economic ties between the two countries, which steadily have grown tighter since a level close to zero during the Cold War. Morocco has now become one of Russia's leading trade partners in Africa and Russia has grown into the second export market of Moroccan agricultural product, only next to the European Union (EU).
According to the Russian state news agency 'Novosty', bilateral trade between Morocco and Russia last year reached the record level of US$ 380 million. The Moroccan King aims at further increasing bilateral cooperation and the trade volume as a result of his visit to the Russian Federation.
While trade and economic cooperation has reached high levels over the last years, the traditional distrust between Moscow and Rabat however has been kept alive. During the Soviet era, Morocco was the West's "bulwark against communism" in North Africa, and Moscow maintained excellent relations to Rabat's arch-rival; Algeria.
With the Cold War long gone, Morocco remains the West's favourite in the Maghreb region - now as the "bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism". Moscow remains faithful to Algiers and Algerian interests.
This is best observed in the conflict over the Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara, where Russia as late as in July supported viewpoint of the Algeria-backed Polisario liberation movement in the UN Security Council. Russia secured a return to the "holding of a referendum on the status of Western Sahara," according to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Also during the Spanish-Moroccan diplomatic crisis over the island of Perejil (Spanish name) or Leila (Moroccan name), the Kremlin visibly sided with Spain. On 15 July, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested "Moroccan soldiers' landing on Perejil Island" (not on "Leila Island") and recommended that a settlement "ought to be found by negotiation." As Spanish troops retook the island, Moscow remained silent.
This year has however also been marked by an increasing traffic of diplomats and officials between Rabat and Moscow. The Russian and Moroccan Foreign Ministers have visited each other, and at this moment, the Moroccan King himself is in Moscow with the aim of deepening the political dialogue.
King Mohammed VI has travelled widely over the last year in an effort to gather support for Morocco's position on Western Sahara. This has especially included countries represented in the UN Security Council, countries recognising the Sahrawi Republic and countries searching favourable trade terms with Morocco. His Moscow talks are due to touch the Sahrawi issue.
Sources: Based on Morocco govt and afrol archives.