On August 27, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, announced the appointment of Russian Alexander Ivanko as the new Special Representative for the Sahara and head of the UN Mission to Organize a Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso), replacing Canadian Colin Stewart.
Several media outlets have claimed that Alexander Ivanko will fill the void left by the personal envoy to the Sahara, Horst Köhler, who officially resigned for “health reasons” in May 2019. But that is not the case.
Köhler still has no replacement. Over the last two years, thirteen names have been proposed and no one has found favor in the eyes of Rabat, Algiers and Polisario.
Last challenged to date, the Italian-Swedish Staffan de Mistura, specialist in “hot conflicts”, appointed by the UN in Syria in 2014 and in Iraq between 2007 and 2009.
According to Moroccan diplomacy, the choice of this profile would give credibility to the “Polisario International Communication Campaign”, according to which the latter would be at open war with the kingdom since 13 November last year.
Another element, De Mistura believes, is that the negotiations on resolving the conflict should be conducted exclusively by Morocco and the Polisario, and not include Algeria.
However, the Kingdom, which is dependent on the results of the “Geneva negotiations” reached in December 2018 and March 2019, believes that Algiers is a stakeholder in the conflict and as such must sit down at the negotiating table.
The stalemate is complete
The discussions in Switzerland revealed, above all, “fundamentally divergent attitudes” between the various parties, according to Horst Köhler, and led to a real stalemate.
The German diplomat, weakened by illness, actually decided to throw in the towel because the efforts to be made were too great and the hope of progress in the matter was frankly low. Since then, the negotiation process has stalled.
With thirty years of experience in international affairs (UN spokesman in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1994 and 1998, then in Lebanon in the summer of 2006) and Chief of Staff of Minurso since 2009, Alexander Ivanko is an experienced diplomat who knows the “Sahara dossier” as his own trouser pocket, both historically and on earth.
Algeria, traditionally backed by the Russian Federation, cannot challenge him. Nor does Morocco because Ivanko has a neutral and balanced position on the subject and because the kingdom still hopes to change the position of the Russians.
Discussions also took place in April 2021 between the Moroccan Ambassador to Moscow, Lotfi Bouchaâra, and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Vershinin. And things are already changing, especially as the kingdom is now Russia’s third largest trading partner.
An exclusively operational role
Only then will Alexander Ivanko actually be limited to an “operational” role and not a political role, unlike the personal envoy for the Sahara.
Technically, this former journalist correspondent in Afghanistan and the United States will manage the framework that governs the mission’s activities – whose mandate is expected to expire on October 31, 2021, but which will undoubtedly be renewed – as well as the financial, human and logistical resources.
It is not Ivanko who should be responsible for bringing the actors of the conflict back to the negotiating table.
He will also ensure respect for the ceasefire. But it will not be up to him to bring the actors in the conflict back to the negotiating table, let alone find a political solution.
Discount has an interest in deferring
Even if a special envoy was finally appointed, the severance of diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco – as decided by Algiers on 24 August – dampens hopes of seeing the start of negotiations and removes the prospect of these two countries sitting at the same table.
Morocco knows that other countries will end up adapting to the US decision.
Algiers have no desire to “touch face” in a conflict that has lasted nearly half a century. The Algerian power, however, knows full well that it has suffered a severe setback, even a bitter setback, with the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in the Sahara by the Trump administration in December 2020, discreetly confirmed since the Biden administration.
As for Morocco, the country’s diplomacy is well aware that a boulevard has been opened in front of it and that other countries – several European states, including Poland, France and perhaps Spain – will end up joining the US decision, or in it least will favor Morocco’s position in the UN.
Several observers believe that sooner or later the kingdom will definitely achieve its sovereignty in the Sahara … Therefore, what is the point of playing the game, it is better to play the clock.