Sudan and Russia: Renewed Russian Naval Base Agreement and Shifting Alliances

Sudan and Russia revived talks on the establishment of a Russian naval base in the Red Sea, in the midst of Sudan's internal conflict, strategic friendship with Russia can significantly affect the situation in this war-torn country

by Sededin Dedovic
Sudan and Russia: Renewed Russian Naval Base Agreement and Shifting Alliances
© Globalytics / Youtube channel

The Deputy Chairman of Sudan's military-dominated Transitional Council, Malik Agar, is very clear about his country’s stance: Yes, there is interest in reviving the agreement to build a Russian naval center in the Red Sea, he told the Sudanese newspaper "Sudan Tribune" in early June on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum in St.

Petersburg (SPIEF), writes DW. Sudan and Russia have been negotiating the agreement for years. According to the online magazine "Understanding War," Sudan's former head of state Omar al-Bashir and Russian President Vladimir Putin had already agreed in 2017 to build a Russian base that could accommodate several hundred soldiers and four ships.

However, due to the political instability that followed, the Sudanese parliament could not ratify the agreement. Recently, however, talks have resumed—apparently successfully. Deputy Commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Lieutenant General Yasir al-Attar, stated at the end of May that Sudan and Russia would sign a series of military and economic agreements in the coming weeks.

Russia: A Strategic Shift in the Sudan Conflict

The fact that Moscow has now reached an agreement with Sudanese state representatives indicates a significant shift in strategy. In the catastrophic conflict that erupted in April last year between the regular SAF army and the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Moscow initially sided with the RSF.

The reason: semi-state Russian Wagner formations had agreements with the RSF for mining rights in Sudanese gold fields—one of the remaining sources of foreign currency for Russia, which has been subject to Western sanctions since its attack on Ukraine.

Sudans military forces© Globalytics / Youtube channel

The military situation in Sudan remains unclear, says political scientist Hager Ali from the GIGA Institute in Hamburg, who recently published an analysis of the Sudanese war.

"But Russia now clearly wants to diversify its support in Sudan. Moreover, Port Sudan is located in an area controlled by the SAF. If Russia wants to establish a naval base there, it will depend on talks with the SAF," she explains.

It is still unclear what impact this will have on the military development of the conflict.

Russia: "Unlimited Military Aid"

In exchange for naval presence, Russia will provide military and security support to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).

Russian President's Special Envoy for Africa and the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, promised the SAF "unlimited qualitative military aid," according to the magazine "Understanding War." In recent years, the Sudanese military has sought combat aircraft such as the Su-30 and Su-35, as well as S-400 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia, says political scientist Andreas Heinemann-Grüder from the Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies (CASSIS) in Bonn.

"Until now, the Russians have been skeptical of these requests. We don't know if they think differently now—nor do we know what weapons Russia has now offered to the Sudanese in exchange for the naval base," Heinemann-Grüder told DW.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, arrived in Khartoum February 13, 2023. The head of Russias foreign policy agency held ta© Globalytics / Youtube channel

Russia fundamentally has good cards in negotiations, says Hager Ali in an interview with DW, adding: "The longer the conflict lasts, the more weapons the SAF needs.

This is especially true for the Sudanese Air Force, which must operate in remote areas. In this sense, Russian weapons can be very useful." The same goes for diesel. It has been in short supply for a long time, Ali explains.

On the other hand, there is also an export ban for Russia due to sanctions. "For a long time, fuel was imported by the Wagner militia through Chad," says Ali, adding that in the future, Russia could supply it through its new naval base in Sudan.

With the port, according to "Understanding War," Russia can consistently continue its military actions in Africa. Due to its involvement in the Syrian war on the side of dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia already has a naval base in Tartus in southern Syria.

This is already used as a logistics hub for Africa—for example, in Libya, which is also torn by civil war. Libya, in turn, serves Moscow as a bridgehead for reinforcements and supplies to sub-Saharan African countries.

"Sudan is another piece of the puzzle in Russia's strategy for Africa," says Hager Ali. This applies to arms trade but also to other Russian presences in Africa, especially in the western part of the continent. "Moscow has various interests: short-term, medium-term, and long-term," adds Ali.

These goals could definitely impact Europe, believes political scientist Andreas Heinemann-Grüder: "The Russians exploit their power of chaos in various African states, not just in Sudan, but also in supporting other coup leaders in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

There, cooperation with the coup leaders does not contribute to stabilization, but rather the opposite. It exacerbates internal conflicts." Given the current situation in Sudan, possible refugee movements towards Europe cannot be ruled out.