Moscow’s Gains: What are the features of Russian movements towards Sudan?

Russia’s relations with Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council have seen a considerable degree of closeness based on mutual coordination and cooperation in recent times. The latest manifestation of this was the visit of a high-level Sudanese delegation to Russia led by the Deputy Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, “Malik Agar,” to participate in the 27th session of the International Economic Forum held from June 5-8, 2024. This delegation included a group of ministers, foremost among them were the Foreign Minister, “Hussein Awad,” and the Finance Minister, “Jibril Ibrahim.” In this context, the Sudanese official made sure to hold a separate meeting with Russian President “Putin,” delivering a message from the Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, “Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.”

Main Pillars

There are several key pillars guiding the overall Russian movements towards Sudan recently, which are as follows:

Intensifying Official Political Visits:

This was evident through the numerous visits by Russian officials to Sudan recently, including the visit of the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Russian President’s envoy to the Middle East and Africa, “Mikhail Bogdanov,” to the city of “Port Sudan” in April 2024, accompanied by a delegation from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense. Additionally, the Russian Foreign Minister “Sergei Lavrov” paid an official visit to Sudan in February 2024. On the other hand, Sudanese officials also made some official visits to Russia, such as the visit of the Deputy Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, “Malik Agar,” to Russia to participate in the International Economic Forum held from June 5-8, 2024.

Targeting the Establishment of a Military Base on the Red Sea:

This has been one of the main goals of Russian movements towards Sudan in recent years, as evidenced in the various meetings and visits that brought together officials from both sides. This dates back to the 2017 agreement allowing the Russian Navy to establish and maintain a military base in Port Sudan on the Red Sea for 25 years, with automatic renewal for 10 years unless either party objects. Although this agreement was frozen after the fall of former Sudanese President “Omar al-Bashir” in April 2019, Russia disclosed its details unilaterally in December 2020 to exert pressure on the ruling Sovereignty Council led by “al-Burhan” to implement it.

It is noteworthy that this base is expected to accommodate about 300 people and be capable of hosting up to four Russian Navy warships, alongside an air defense system. The agreement grants Russia free access to Sudanese airspace without bearing the costs of using the base. In return, Russia will provide special weapons and equipment based on a separate agreement and fulfill several obligations, such as “assisting” in developing the Sudanese armed forces, defending “Port Sudan,” and securing Sudanese territorial waters against sabotage attacks, with the support expected from Russian military intelligence.

Under this agreement, Russia can host nuclear-powered ships and deploy its forces across Africa and the Indian Ocean, allowing it to compete with other regional or global naval powers in this highly tense area and control oil exports from South Sudan, which depends on Sudanese pipelines, refineries, and Port Sudan on the Red Sea to export 150,000 barrels of oil daily.

Discussions about this military presence in the Red Sea resurfaced with reports on June 4, 2024, indicating that Russia and Sudan had reached a 25-year agreement granting Russia a technical and logistical support center in Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The draft agreement specifies that no more than four ships can be stationed at the support point simultaneously and that the Russian presence should not exceed 300 permanent personnel.

Focusing on Supporting Sudan with Arms Sales:

This was evident from the announcement by the Sudanese army’s assistant commander, “Yasser al-Atta,” on May 25, 2024, that the Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, “Abdel Fattah al-Burhan,” would sign an agreement granting Russia a military presence on the Red Sea in exchange for urgent military supplies of weapons and ammunition due to the significant shortage faced by the Sudanese army. This importance is heightened given the ongoing war since April 15, 2023, which has expanded to several areas in Sudan, creating an urgent need for the Sudanese army to be supplied with weapons, especially after the Rapid Support Forces seized several military supply facilities.

It is worth noting that Russia is considered Africa’s primary military partner in terms of arms sales volume from 2019 to 2023, with Russian arms imports accounting for about 24% of Africa’s total arms imports, while the United States ranks second with approximately 16% during the same period.

Relying on Anti-Western Propaganda Campaigns:

Russia relies on producing films and social media posts targeting anti-Western and anti-US sentiments and improving its image by highlighting humanitarian activities in the country. For instance, Facebook canceled a coordinated network of accounts originating from Russia in October 2019 because their content included posts about local news and events in Sudan, including Sudanese-Russian relations, Russian foreign policy, and Muslims in Russia. Facebook also removed another group of Sudanese pages linked to Russia in May 2021 that directly defended Russian interests.

The Sudanese government has not officially commented on these interventions or opened an investigation into the deleted Russian pages. However, it imposed Article 23 of the Cybercrime Law in November 2020, prohibiting the publication of false news. Although the official Sudanese response was tepid, the campaign drew criticism from the US government.

Opening Lines of Communication with the Sudanese Sovereignty Council:

This forms one of the pillars of Russian movements towards Sudan recently. It is linked to Russia’s attempt to refute claims of its support for the Rapid Support Forces led by “Hemetti,” particularly since the current conflict began on April 15, 2023, according to some international reports, especially those from Western countries. These reports indicated that Russia relied on employing the “Wagner Group” to achieve its goals in Sudan, which started its work in 2017 during the era of former Sudanese President “Omar al-Bashir,” providing military training to intelligence elements, special forces, and the “Rapid Support Forces.”

Motivating Factors

Several motivating factors drive Russian movements towards Sudan recently, which include:

Importance of Sudan’s Natural Resources: Russia seeks to benefit from Sudan’s mineral wealth by concluding some agreements in the near future, especially since Sudan is the third-largest gold producer on the continent and the tenth largest globally, contributing about 90 tons of gold to the global market annually. In this context, Russia agreed with Sudan to establish a holding company managed by the Wagner Group to extract gold ore in 2017. Russia also seeks to benefit from Sudan’s other mineral reserves, such as chromite, gypsum, phosphate, zinc, lead, nickel, aluminum, cobalt, iron, and many other minerals. Exploiting these resources has helped mitigate the impact of Western sanctions on Russia.

Benefiting from Sudan’s Strategic Location: Sudan enjoys geostrategic importance due to its location in two vital regions: the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. This location is distinguished by the presence of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the southern entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in the north. Sudan connects several strategic areas, including East Africa, the Sahel, the Sahara, the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean. This makes the country a suitable gateway to Sub-Saharan Africa and a link between North and South Africa. It is also a central gateway to East, Central, and West Africa, bordering Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic. This strategic location of Sudan has been a primary motivation for Russia to establish a military base on the Red Sea in Sudan.

Providing an Alternative to Western Withdrawal in the Sahel and Sahara Region: Russia aims to strengthen its presence in the Sahel and Sahara region by engaging in Sudan through a strategy combining hard and soft power, benefiting from Western policy mistakes and growing anti-European sentiments due to failures in addressing the root causes of regional instability. Russia relies on the “African Corps” as a primary tool to enhance its interactions with the countries in this region, especially on the security front. Russian movements have been evident in several cases in recent years, such as Niger, where Russia sought to strengthen ties following the French military withdrawal in December 2023. A Russian delegation led by the Deputy Defense Minister visited Niger in December 2023, and Niger’s Prime Minister, “Ali Amin Zein,” visited Russia in January 2024. The growing ties led to Niger announcing on April 10, 2024, the arrival of the first batch of air defense systems and Russian military trainers, numbering about 100, with two more batches of equipment and trainers arriving by early May of the same year.

Russia also sought to strengthen its ties with Burkina Faso following the French military withdrawal in February 2023. In addition, it strengthened its relations with the transitional military regime in Mali, particularly after France completed its military withdrawal in Operation “Barkhane” in August 2022. Russian Foreign Minister “Sergei Lavrov” visited the capital “Bamako” in early February 2023, affirming Russia’s support for Mali’s counter-terrorism air operations by providing Russian aviation technology and supporting the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea countries against the threat of terrorist and jihadist groups.

Countering Ukrainian Support for the Sudanese Sovereignty Council: Russia aims to strengthen its ties with the Sudanese Sovereignty Council due to the recent growing Ukrainian interest in Sudan. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry welcomed the invitation from the Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, “Abdel Fattah al-Burhan,” to visit the Sudanese capital “Khartoum” on June 10, 2023. Following this, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister “Dmytro Kuleba” visited Sudan on June 2, 2023, making him the first senior Ukrainian official to visit Sudan since establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1993. During this visit, the Ukrainian official sought to present his country’s view on Russia’s use of African countries as a front for its aggression against Ukraine. He affirmed Kyiv’s readiness to develop and strengthen ties with Sudan, particularly in agriculture and food security, to ensure grain and agricultural product exports continue through Sudan’s port on the Red Sea.

In this context, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister hinted at Ukraine’s readiness to provide Sudan with weapons to assist in ending the war that began on April 15, 2023, between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, especially given the Sudanese army’s need for more weapons and ammunition due to the Rapid Support Forces’ seizure of several military supply facilities.

In conclusion, the comprehensive features of recent Russian movements towards Sudan suggest that Sudan’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with its link between vital strategic areas, and its significant mineral wealth, particularly gold, make it a priority area for Moscow to achieve its regional and international goals.

In summary, the comprehensive features of recent Russian movements towards Sudan suggest that Sudan’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with its link between vital strategic areas, and its significant mineral wealth, particularly gold, make it a priority area for Moscow to achieve its regional and international goals.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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