Vladimir Putin in videoconferenza con il sindaco di Mosca Sergei Sobyanin

Russia Finds a New Regional Stronghold in Sudan

On Wednesday, November 11, Moscow published a draft agreement to establish a logistics hub for its navy in the African nation of Sudan.

The agreement, which was signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin a week earlier on November 6, envisions the hosting of up to 300 Russian troops and four warships at a time, including those equipped with nuclear capability.

The location coordinates of the navy hub, as per the agreement, suggest that it will be located in the city of Port Sudan, which sits more or less equidistant from Egypt, Eritrea and — across the Red Sea — Saudi Arabia.

Russia will also be able to import and export weapons and supplies for the warships with no payment of a duty or tax and no scrutiny from the country’s authorities.

A Project Dating From al-Bashir’s Time

Schemes for such a project are not recent. Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades until he was overthrown following a coup d’état in 2019, had already made it public in 2017 that he and his Russian counterpart — and key ally — President Vladimir Putin were discussing the prospects of establishing a naval base on the coast of Sudan.

In December of that same year, Russia also signed an agreement with Sudan on developing a nuclear plant in African country. During that time, al-Bashir was still wanted by the International Criminal Court for the Darfur genocide.

Pressed by the West — and, most notably, by the United States — al-Bashir pushed to build stronger ties with Moscow. In his 2017 meeting with Putin, he even offered to construct an airbase for Russia near the Red Sea coast and to re-equip the Sudanese Army with Russian weapons, including SU-30 fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles.

Russia’s Presence in Africa

Russia stands out in Africa as a major supplier of weapons, as it accounts for almost half of the continent’s arms imports. Between 2015 and 2019, 49% of military equipment imported to the continent were from Russia, whereas US arms exports only accounted for 14% and China’s for 13%.

Currently, the Sudanese Army is said to be 60% equipped with Russian — or Soviet — military hardware. Sudan is Russia’s third biggest arms importer in Africa, standing behind Algeria (first) and Egypt.

Russia is also reportedly building military bases in six African countries. According to Bild, a German newspaper, those six countries Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar and, besides Sudan, Mozambique.

Bordering Sudan in the south, Eritrea is also expecting a similar agreement to build a logistics base for the Russia navy on its coast, which stands closer to Yemen and the Horn of Africa, whereas Egypt had already signed a deal allowing Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases.

With or Without al-Bashir

Although Putin supported al-Bashir throughout the period of protests, he nonetheless recognized the interim Military Transitional Council (MTC) immediately after al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019.

The transitional leaders were then feared to pose a bigger challenge for Moscow, as the interim government seemed friendlier to Riyadh and Washington, in contrast to al-Bashir.

Yet the long-awaited naval deal came even shortly after Sudan was urged to normalize its ties with Israel, one of Washington’s major allies in the region, in order to be removed from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Taking part in a UN anti-piracy effort, the Russian navy is temporarily based in Djibouti, which hosts permanent military bases of major world powers, including the United States and China. But after Djibouti rejected Russia’s request to make the Russian navy’s presence permanent in 2016, Moscow soon approached Khartoum.

Moreover, Russia has also invested significantly in the energy and mineral industries in Sudan, as well as in other African countries. Thus, having its own port in the Red Sea could prove highly profitable.