14 Dec With Base in Sudan, Russia Expands Its Military Reach in Africa
Russia has struck a deal with Sudan to establish a naval base in the country, as Moscow seeks to expand its military reach in the Middle East and North Africa. The deal, made public on Dec. 8, allows Russia to station four ships and up to 300 personnel at Port Sudan on the Red Sea as part of a 25-year agreement. It will be Russia’s first naval base in Africa.
The base will be used as a logistics support center and repair and resupply point. The deal also gives Moscow the right to use Sudan’s airports for the transport of “weapons, ammunition and equipment” required to support the base.
Port Sudan is significantly smaller than the Russian base in Tartus, Syria—Moscow’s only other naval facility outside of the former Soviet Union—but it will give Russia a strategic foothold along the Red Sea, which links European and Asian waters and is one of the world’s busiest waterways. China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017 at the mouth of the Red Sea. (The only permanent U.S. military base on the continent is also in Djibouti.)
At various points during the Cold War, the Soviet Union had bases in the region in South Yemen, Somalia, and Ethiopia—but they were lost following the USSR’s collapse. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made restoring the country’s global military might a cornerstone of his two decades in power.
While Russia has sought to beef up its presence in the Mediterranean through its interventions in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, the Kremlin has also kept one eye on the Red Sea. Russian officials have previously probed the possibility of establishing a military foothold in Djibouti and Eritrea, although the talks didn’t progress.
Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir raised the prospect of hosting a Russian base in the country during a 2017 meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergi Shoigu. After Bashir’s ouster in 2019, the discussions continued with the head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council. Moscow and Khartoum have long enjoyed a close relationship, and Russia is a major supplier of arms to the country.
The Wagner Group, private military security contractors that the U.S. State Department has characterized as a “surrogate” for the Russian Ministry of Defense, already has a well-established presence in Sudan. Two mining companies from the Wagner network, which is believed to be backed by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in July for formulating plans to suppress the pro-democracy demonstrations that toppled Bashir, including “the staging of public executions” to distract the protesters.
“Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his network are exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and spreading malign influence around the globe,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement issued at the time.