Recently, Sudan has begun to attract interest from a wide variety of countries. After two revolutions in Sudan and the overthrow of President al-Bashir’s regime, who ruled the country for 30 years, this African country is returning to the international community. The political activity that has now arisen all around Sudan, which was under sanctions even recently, is permitting the country that the British called “the gateway to Africa” to play a very important role on the Dark Continent in the near future, and to become a stronghold to enable economic penetration into sub-Saharan Africa. Experts believe that this region will become the fastest growing one over this century, and that is why the European Union, United States, and China are now paying greater attention to Africa.
On January 21, Great Britain signed a memorandum of understanding with its former colony that pledged to provide Khartoum with £40 million of economic aid to support 1.6 million poor families, and pledged a $400 million loan to help repay Sudan’s debts to the African Development Bank. Great Britain pledged another £125 million for Sudan to deal with the crisis caused by its political and economic problems, as well as the catastrophic flooding that occurred from August-September 2020, which killed more than one hundred people.
Not that long ago, the Israeli Minister of Intelligence, Eli Cohen, paid the first official visit made by Israeli authorities to Khartoum and discussed a wide range of issues of bilateral cooperation, including those involving cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence services.
High-ranking representatives from the White House have become frequent visitors to Sudan, playing their roles across the country’s geopolitical map in the policy pursued in this region and behind-the-scenes games. For example, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM Bank) promised to allocate more than one billion dollars to Sudan for infrastructure projects, and signed the respective memorandum with the Sudanese Minister of Finance and Economic Planning.
After the sanctions have been lifted, the new Sudanese authorities intend to develop their relations with various countries, including with Russia, which is a country that since Soviet times has retained its image as a reliable partner. The strategic importance of Sudan on the Red Sea, and the cooperation it has fostered in recent years with Russia have, to even greater extent than the coronavirus pandemic, captured the minds of the political elite in the United States, and in the Pentagon, in terms of seeking an immediate military response to Moscow in this African state.
It is worth pointing out that Moscow has been in negotiations with Khartoum since 2017, and incrementally came to signing an agreement on November 6 to construct a logistics center for the Russian Navy in Port Sudan. At the same time, the time frames for the first visit in modern history made by a Russian warship to the Sudanese port were set, and at the end of February the Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich entered Port Sudan. In early February, a reconnaissance committee from the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense traveled to Sudan to gain an understanding of the technological capabilities inherent in, and determine the scope of construction of, the auxiliary buildings and structures of the logistics center.
It is anticipated that the Russian Navy’s logistics center, which is being created near Port Sudan, will be able to accommodate up to 300 military personnel and civilians. It will improve Russia’s ability to conduct operations in the Indian Ocean, and expand its influence in Africa, on a par with a similar naval base in Tartus, Syria. The Sudanese naval base will not only serve Russia’s maritime interests, but it could potentially become the “key” to Central Africa, where Moscow has traditionally held interests, including in the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, it should not be forgotten that Russia has an interest in maintaining a military presence in the “pirate-plagued” region to support safe commercial shipping. According to Western media reports, the logistic center’s premises have been provided free of charge by the Sudanese government, and Moscow will have the right to import any weapons, ammunition, and other equipment that it needs through the airports and ports in this African country to help operate the new facility.
Perceiving all these facts with a sense of jealousy, the US Navy command dispatched four warships to Port Sudan a few weeks ago. Two of them arrived in Sudan at the end of February, and two more, according to unconfirmed reports, headed off there in early March. The US naval destroyer Winston Churchill was sent there expeditiously, and a few days before that the US naval high-speed amphibious assault ship Carson City, with US Marines, was dispatched. These visits by US naval vessels to Sudan were the first since the US African Command (USAFRICOM, in operation since 2008) was established. As was dispatching an American military delegation to Khartoum with the participation of USAFRICOM Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement Andrew Young, and Intelligence Director Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, to conduct bilateral negotiations and put pressure on Sudan so that the authorities in the country refuse to host a Russian naval logistics center. At the same time, for more than a quarter of a century the Americans have successfully ignored Sudan as a state, equating it with a terrorist entity.
For the purposes of persuading Sudan to cooperate chiefly with the United States, and not Russia, the transitional government of this African country was promised some incentives by Washington. Washington is using the economic crisis of this African country to serve its own interests, and dictate conditions that are favorable for the United States. One of those could be deploying an AFRICOM base in Port Sudan, where Russian forces are slated for deployment. At meetings that were held in January, US military personnel have already discussed possibly transferring AFRICOM command to Sudan.
The successful development of relations between Washington and Khartoum is facilitated by the fact that, after persuading Sudan to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Washington crossed the country off the list of terrorism sponsors. This enabled Khartoum to obtain international loans, and restore cooperation with American businesses. At the same time, despite the presence of many US bases on the African continent, Washington has assured Khartoum that it does not plan to shelve this issue – and now US expansion is moving towards Sudan.
Along with picking up the pace of negotiations on restoring relations between Sudan and the United States, a propaganda campaign against the Russian presence in the African country has started in the Western press, with the explicit participation of Washington. At the same time, the systematic improvement of Russian-Sudanese relations that has occurred since 2017 is criticized in every possible way. The main reason given for rebuking Moscow’s actions is that the first agreements on logistics center for the Russian Navy were reached under Omar al-Bashir, but now the country’s government is completely different. However, the fact that the agreement between Moscow and Khartoum on the Russian naval logistics facility in Port Sudan was signed under the new transitional government has been completely ignored. The United States deliberately does not focus on the pressure it has put on Sudan to pursue its interests in the Red Sea area: Khartoum had to change its attitude towards Israel, and guarantee that it would make compensation payments to the victims of terrorist attacks for which it did not claim any responsibility. However, Sudan has not yet received the money that the White House promised.
Washington is deliberately keeping silent about the propaganda it is unleashing, and the negative experiences that many countries have built up when “Uncle Sam develops their democratic foundations”, especially over the last fifteen years: The United States has brought “democracy” to countries that were flourishing and living in prosperity, but after US interference they are now muddling along in poverty and ruin. And the new transitional government of Sudan should think a thousand times over before recklessly following the promises given by Washington.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.