U.S. intelligence believes Sudan has rebuffed Moscow’s hopes of establishing its first naval base in Africa. But see earlier Tass report below
Source: Foreign Policy
Russia’s Dreams of a Red Sea Naval Base Are Scuttled—for Now
JULY 15, 2022, 2:43 PM
Russia’s hopes of establishing a naval base at Port Sudan on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, have run aground, according to two U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials have closely been eyeing the deal between Moscow and Khartoum, which was first made public in late 2020. If it went through, it would grant Russia a strategic foothold on the Red Sea, where some 30 percent of the world’s container traffic passes each year. The naval base would be Russia’s first in Africa, which U.S. officials feared Moscow could use to project power further afield into the Indian Ocean.
Russia’s Red Sea naval ambitions appear to have run afoul of complicated internal dynamics within Sudan’s military leadership, which took 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, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo—known as Hemeti—has embraced Moscow, the coup leader and de facto head of state, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has sought to avoid alienating the West and his other key allies in the region, including Egypt.
“They’re very hesitant to give them access to this port. They continue to try and delay and do delay tactics,” said a U.S. intelligence official. “We see it as unlikely that the Port Sudan deal is going to be done anytime in the near future and that Russia is potentially looking to seek other options if Port Sudan doesn’t work out.”
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 anemic economy. Even as Moscow pours its military resources into its botched invasion of Ukraine, it has expanded its footprint in unstable regions and conflict zones in Africa, including Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. It has leveraged arms sales, disinformation campaigns, and the so-called mercenary Wagner Group, widely viewed as a proxy for the Russian military—giving the Kremlin an outside impact relative to its tiny foreign direct investment in the continent.
“Russia has arguably gained more influence in Africa over the last several years than any other external actor,” said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday.
Discussions over the Russian naval base in Sudan have fluctuated over the years, leading some analysts to question whether it is truly off the table. “I think what the Sudanese military is trying to do is play all sides,” Siegle told Foreign Policy. “They want to flirt with the Russians, but at the same time, I think the military realizes that the Russians don’t bring a whole lot, that any money, any investment capital, is going to have to come from getting the Western donors back on board.”
The Sudanese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said, “Moving forward with such a naval agreement or any other form of security cooperation with Russia would further isolate Sudan’s military regime and undermine stability in the Horn of Africa and broader Red Sea region.”
Talks between Putin and former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir about negotiating a possible Russian naval presence in Sudan began in 2017. Following Bashir’s ouster in a popular uprising in 2019, the deal was put on ice as a transitional government sought to end the country’s international isolation. In late 2020, Moscow appeared to unilaterally sign and publish a copy of the 25-year basing agreement in an apparent effort to force Sudan’s hand.
A copy of the agreement called for allowing Moscow to keep up to four naval vessels based on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. In exchange, Russia would have provided Sudan with military equipment and other government assistance.
Russian embassy refutes report on suspending Sudan naval base deal
29 APR 2021
The Russian Embassy in Khartoum has not received any notifications from the Sudanese side
Khartoum city view
MOSCOW, April 29. /TASS/. The reports on a suspended agreement between Sudan and Russia on creating a naval base in the African republic have nothing to do with reality, the Russian Embassy in Sudan said on its Facebook page on Thursday.
“In connection with the reports that have emerged in the regional and Sudanese media space about the alleged suspension of the implementation of the Agreement between Russia and the Republic of Sudan on the creation of a logistics center for the Russian Navy on the territory of the Republic of Sudan, the Embassy emphasizes that these statements do not correspond to reality, whatever the so-called sources say. The Russian Embassy in Khartoum has not received any notifications from the Sudanese side,” the statement says.
On Wednesday, Al Arabiya TV reported citing its sources that Sudan had suspended the effect of its agreement signed with Russia to build a naval base in the country. According to the channel, the agreement “signed by Moscow with the previous regime” is suspended “until it is approved by the legislature.” Khartoum has already notified Moscow.
The news broke out in early December 2020 that Russia and Sudan had struck the agreement to build a naval logistical support and maintenance facility in the African country. The naval logistics base is designed for carrying out repairs, replenishing supplies and for the crewmembers of Russian naval ships to have a rest. Sudan will hand over to Russia for free for the entire period of the agreement’s duration the territory and the real estate that comprises the coastal zone and the water area with the mooring front (the berths for the floating craft). The military and civilian personnel should not exceed 300 people and may be increased upon agreement with Sudan, the document stipulates.
The agreement will be in effect for 25 years with automatic extension for 10 years, if neither party notifies the other party in writing through diplomatic channels no less than twelve months before the expiry of the relevant period about its intention to terminate it.