Reporting: Amy McKinnon, Robbie Grammer, Jack Deitch
The American magazine (Foreign Policy) published a report, saying that Russia’s hopes of establishing a naval base in Port Sudan on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, have fallen, according to two American intelligence officials who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity.
US officials have been keeping a close eye on the deal between Moscow and Khartoum, which was first announced in late 2020. If sealed, it would give Russia a strategic foothold on the Red Sea, where about 30% of the world’s container traffic passes. The naval base will be Russia’s first in Africa, which US officials fear Moscow may use to project its power further into the Indian Ocean.
Russia’s naval ambitions in the Red Sea appear to conflict with the complex internal dynamics within Sudan’s military leadership, which seized power from a civilian-led transitional government following a coup in October last year. Although the deputy head of the country’s ruling military council, Lieutenant-General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – better known as Hemedti – has embraced Moscow, the coup leader and de facto head of state, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, has sought to avoid alienating the West and its other key allies in the region. , including Egypt.
They are very reluctant to give them access to this port. “They keep trying, delaying, and doing delay tactics,” a US intelligence official said. “We see that the Port Sudan deal is unlikely to be concluded anytime in the near future and that Russia is likely to look at other options if the Port Sudan option does not work.”
Russia has made significant inroads in Africa in recent years as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to expand his country’s global influence despite its dwindling soft power and weak economy. Even as Moscow poured its military resources into its failed invasion of Ukraine, it has expanded its reach in the unstable and conflict zones of Africa including Mali, Libya and the Central African Republic. It has benefited from arms sales, disinformation campaigns, and the so-called Wagner mercenary group, which is widely seen as a proxy for the Russian military — giving the Kremlin leverage over its small foreign direct investment on the continent.
“Arguably, Russia has gained more influence in Africa over the past several years than any other external actor,” Joseph Siegel, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday.
Discussions about the Russian naval base in Sudan have fluctuated over the years, leading some analysts to question whether it is really off the table. “I think what Sudan is trying to do is play with all sides,” Siegel told Foreign Policy. “They want to court the Russians, but at the same time, I think Sudan understands that the Russians don’t bring in much, that any money, any investment capital, It must come from getting west; Donors are getting back on the plane.”
The Sudanese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the matter. “Proceeding with such a maritime agreement or other form of security cooperation with Russia would further isolate the Sudanese military regime and undermine stability in the Horn of Africa and the broader Red Sea region,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Talks between Putin and former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir about negotiating a possible Russian naval presence in Sudan began in 2017. After al-Bashir was ousted in a popular uprising in 2019, the deal was frozen as a transitional government sought to end the country’s international isolation. In late 2020, Moscow appeared to be signing and unilaterally leaking a copy of the 25-year agreement to establish the base in an apparent attempt to force Sudan to do so.
A copy of the agreement called for Moscow to be allowed to keep up to four warships on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. In return, Russia would provide Sudan with military equipment and other government aid.
But the Chief of Staff of the Sudanese Army, Lieutenant-General Muhammad Othman Al-Hussein, said in June 2021 that the deal was under review, noting that the Legislative Council, the body responsible for approving such measures during the transitional government, had not yet been formed.
The setback represents a potential small victory for the United States as it seeks to limit the influence of its two biggest geopolitical rivals in Africa, as Russia and China seek to expand their influence by deepening security cooperation with African governments — though African governments fear they will be portrayed As pawns in a geopolitical competition between the United States, Russia and China.
“Our adversaries are well aware of Africa’s strategic potential and dedicate resources and time to strengthening their partnerships on the continent,” Chedi Bleiden, the U.S. Department of Defense’s senior official on African affairs, told a Senate committee during a hearing on Tuesday. “As part of their engagement, Russia and China routinely provide logistical materials Training and defense for African countries.