The Kremlin plans to set up a naval base on the Red Sea in Sudan which it would expand Russia’s presence in Africa that could have global geopolitical implications.
Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the former chief of staff for the navy, said that the fight against pirates around the Horn of Africa justified Russia’s establishing a base for logistics and repair.
“It is a tense region. A Russian naval presence there is necessary,” Kravchenko said hinting that the facility could one day be developed into a fully fledged base.
Rolf Welberts, a former German ambassador to Sudan who has also served as head of the NATO Information Office in Moscow, said that cultivating the image of a world power also plays a role, observers say.
“Russia defines itself as a player right on the spot in this important region of the world,” he said.
Apart from prestige, Russia could conceivably also be after the extraction of raw materials in Sudan and the power to “cut off trade routes in case of conflict with the West,” Alexander Golz, a Russian military journalist said.
The Soviet Union had outposts in Ethiopia and Somalia to counter the fact that the United States had a naval base on the Indian Ocean. Today, it seems the Red Sea is important as a region and point of access to the African continent for Russia.
Annette Weber of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs said that the Red Sea has become a geopolitical hot spot.
She added that the war in Yemen, in which several countries in the region including Sudan are involved, was a starting point.
“It’s a fantastic deal for Russia that has strengthened its influence. The expert described Sudan as “extremely important” in terms of trade, smuggling and escape routes,” Weber said.
Russia and Sudan did not have very close ties until that changed in 2017, when Russia’s president welcomed his Sudanese counterpart at the time, Omar al-Bashir, in Sochi.
“Russia’s government was sending the message that it was ready to work with Sudan when other countries would not,” said Kholood Khair, a managing partner at Insight Strategy Partners, a policy think tank based in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
The country is on the US state sponsors of terrorism list, and al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur. Sudan is currently trying to get itself removed from the list to end years of isolation.
At the 2017 meeting with Putin, al-Bashir ranted against the United States, described Sudan as “Russia’s key to Africa” and introduced the issue of a naval base supposedly as a protective measure against the US.
Reports followed about Russian companies mining gold in Sudan and a dubious private military named the Wagner Group that was said to have advised al-Bashir’s security forces during an uprising in late 2018.
It is unclear whether Russia sees Sudan as a springboard in the region. However, military advisers and mercenaries have been seen in at least two neighbouring countries: Libya and the Central African Republic. That appears to be part of Russia’s strategy of establishing new ties with Soviet-era allies.
The United States, France and China have naval bases in Djibouti on the Red Sea. According to the media, Russia has also showed an interest.
By Joy Kyalo