Sudan suspends agreement with Russia to set up military base in the red Sea

Khartoum has also halted "any further Russian military deployment"
Fragata de la Armada rusa RFS Admiral Grigorovich

PHOTO/AFP  -   Russian Navy frigate RFS Admiral Grigorovich (494), at anchor in Port Sudan

Russia's plan to establish a military base in the red Sea will not go ahead, according to Arab media outlets such as Al-Ain, Al-Arabiya and Sky News Arabia. Nor will Moscow be able to resume "any military deployment" in the country, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. This decision would be motivated by the current political situation in Sudan. After the overthrow of former president Omar Al-Bashir, the African country is suffering from political and social instability. The Russian military base will have to be approved by the transitional parliament, which has not yet been inaugurated. However, a former Russian navy admiral told the Interfax news agency that the deal has been put on hold because of "pressure from the United States".

Despite this uncertain political scenario and reports in some Arab media, the Russian embassy in Khartoum immediately denied the information. The Russian delegation in Khartoum declared that "these statements do not correspond to reality, whatever the alleged sources may say". The embassy reported that it had received "no notification from Sudan". Also, according to the diplomatic authorities, this information about the alleged cancellation "seeks to damage the traditionally friendly Russian-Sudanese relations".

Oficiales rusos y sudafricanos  frente a un Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack"  ​
​AFP/EMMANUEL CROSET - Russian and South African officials stand in front of a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack", a supersonic variable swept wing supersonic heavy strategic bomber, parked on the runway at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Centurion, south of Pretoria, northeast South Africa.

Last March the first Russian warship entered Port Sudan, the port where Russia planned to build the military facility. This military project was announced in November 2020, and would last for 25 years. Under the agreement, Russia would have the right to station a maximum of 300 military personnel and civilians at the base. It would also be able to dispose of four ships, including nuclear-powered ones. In return, Sudan would receive Russian arms and military equipment. This military base would be Russia's first on the African continent since the end of the Cold War. It would also be the second military installation outside its post-Soviet sphere of influence, after the Tartus naval base in Syria.

Vladimir Putin
PHOTO/ALEXEI DANICHEV via AP - Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Council of Legislators of the Federal Assembly in St. Petersburg, 27 April 2021.

Previously, in 2019, Russia and Sudan signed a seven-year military and civilian cooperation agreement. However, Sudan is not the only country with which Russia has established such ties. Since 2014, Moscow has signed 19 military agreements with other countries on the continent. It has also signed nuclear partnership treaties with 16 countries. Apart from Russia's military weight in the region, it is worth noting the many trade agreements that Russia has with African countries. Moscow's "unofficial" operations on the continent should also be taken into account. The West has repeatedly accused Russia of sending mercenaries to Africa, as well as training local militias. According to Bloomberg, Russia's Wagner Group has sent more than 1,200 mercenaries to Libya.

This growing relevance on the continent counterbalances US influence. After Russia established its first warship, the Admiral Grigorovich, on the Red Sea coast, the US introduced another ship to the Sudanese port. The US embassy in Khartoum justified this move as "supporting the democratic transition in Sudan and strengthening the partnership with the country". However, local sources claimed that Washington's decision is aimed at blocking Russia's strategy to avoid situations like those that occurred in Syria and Libya.

Operaciones rusas Libia
AFP PHOTO / US Africa Command - This 13 July 2020 satellite image, released by the US Africa Command, purportedly shows images detailing the extent of equipment supplied by Russia to supply Wagner fighters at Libya's Al-Khadim airfield, including IL-76s; SA-22 air defence equipment; and Su-24 fighters.

Since the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir, the US has significantly improved its relations with Sudan. The African country has been removed from Washington's terrorism lists and has signed a peace agreement with Israel under the mediation of former US president Donald Trump. In contrast, relations with Moscow were fostered during al-Bashir's tenure. During a visit in 2017, the former Sudanese president called on Putin to 'protect' Sudan from the US. He also encouraged the Russian president to strengthen military cooperation. Currently, Sudan seems to prefer to move closer to its US partner and away from Moscow's influence.