The deal raises questions about whether Russia is shifting its strategy in the Sudanese conflict.

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Amid ongoing conflicts with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) appear poised to offer Russia a strategic naval base on the Red Sea in exchange for critical military supplies.

According to Sudanese analyst Osman Al Mirghany, the SAF is in urgent need of weapons, ammunition, and spare parts for its Russian-made warplanes. “Offering Russia a naval base in return for them is its best option,” Al Mirghany told the North Africa Post.

Sudanese and Russian officials met on the sidelines of the recent International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg to discuss the establishment of the base, reviving talks that began in 2007 under former dictator Omar al-Bashir. These talks had stalled following the 2019 coup that ousted al-Bashir, but SAF chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, has reignited the discussions amid fierce opposition from the RSF.

During discussions in April, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov promised Sudan “unrestricted qualitative military aid,” potentially including Russian troops on Sudanese soil, as reported by the Sudan Tribune.

Sudanese Lt. Gen. Yasir al-Atta emphasized that the proposed Russian base would focus on logistics and refueling, not becoming a fully equipped naval facility. He suggested that Sudan could allow other nations to establish similar operations, mirroring the multi-nation base model in Djibouti.

Analysts see the agreement as evidence of Russia’s ambition to expand its presence in Africa, including neighboring countries Libya and the Central African Republic, where the RSF has received aid from the Wagner Group mercenaries.

The deal raises questions about whether Russia is shifting its strategy in the Sudanese conflict. Despite supporting the SAF, Russia’s Wagner Group has allied with the RSF, which controls major gold mines in western Sudan. These mines are crucial for Russia to circumvent international sanctions and fund its invasion of Ukraine.

Data from the Sudanese Central Bank revealed that from February 2022 to February 2023, Wagner and its affiliates smuggled an estimated $1.9 billion in gold out of Sudan, nearly equaling the country’s legitimate mining operations for 2022.

Fighting between the SAF and RSF has disrupted some of these Russian gold operations, potentially prompting Russia to reconsider its relationship with the RSF. Analyst Liam Karr from the Institute for the Study of War suggests that a shift in Russian support towards the SAF might allow Russia to redirect resources to Ukraine and other African regions.

However, Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, argues that Russia’s dual support strategy is a hedge. “They recognize that in the end, neither side will be able to completely destroy the other,” Ramani told The New Arab. “The Russians would want to maintain close ties with whoever is in power when this is all over.”

Observers agree that Russia’s military alliance with the SAF could escalate violence in Sudan. “While Russia’s diplomatic maneuvers look unlikely to deliver game-changing support for the SAF, the creation of alliances predicated on procuring arms and strengthening military cooperation does not bode well for a political resolution in the near term,” wrote analyst Elfadil Ibrahim for The New Arab.

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