Russia Expanding Its Military Bases in Africa

Russian military expands in Africa by building bases in Africa. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defence

Somalilandsun: After years of negotiations with Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia to establish naval bases, Russia has finally signed an agreement with Sudan, signifying further its return to Africa. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the strategic Red Sea coastline.

Moscow had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days, Eritrea appears to be steadily working for Russia, while Djibouti already hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China has a military base in Djibouti which was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.

Djibouti hosts the US and French bases and small ones for Japan, Italy, and Spain. The United Arab Emirates has an airbase at Assab in Eritrea. Turkey has a military training facility at Mogadishu in Somalia. The US has military personnel, but not a base, in Somalia and Kenya. The United Kingdom has military personnel in Kenya.

Over the years, Russia has looked to set its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region in what experts have explained would represent a long-term unique footprint to keep up with competitors like China and the United States. Russia is also continuing to move towards building military bases in at least six African countries to strengthen its policy of “military-technical cooperation” – and further take advantage of existing opportunities on the continent.

Russia attaches great importance to strengthening peace and security in Africa, engaging in steps to overcome the impasses in disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and between Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as offering support for Somalia’s efforts to restore its statehood, arguing that these are essential stabilising factors for the Horn of Africa.

In 2019, the Kremlin hosted a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi attended by more than 40 African leaders, where President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan, on the summit’s sidelines.

In his opening statement, Putin said that Moscow considers the signing of the constitutional declaration, the formation of the Sovereignty Council and establishment of a transitional government as the first steps towards placing the country on the path of sustainable development. Acknowledging that many tasks still lie ahead, Putin said that Moscow intends to continue providing all necessary aid and support for normalisation of the situation.

Abdelrahman al-Burhan told Putin that the armed forces and coalition forces play an important role in building the future of Sudan, and said he particularly in terms of helping to build up the country’s armed forces.

It is worth recalling here that, as far back as late November 2017, during a meeting with Putin, Sudan’s then-president, Omar al-Bashir, pointed to the security problems facing the region, accusing the United States of policy interference that had resulted in the separation of Sudan.

“We think the situation that developed in our country (the same applies to Darfur and South Sudan) has the same roots – US policy. As a result, our country split into two parts, which made a bad situation worse. We need protection from aggressive US actions,” he vehemently told Putin.

In this context, Omar al-Bashir suggested the development of cooperation with Russia in all areas, emphasising defence, and called for a greater supply of Russian weapons and machinery for land troops and aviation.

“We had a very good meeting with the Russian Defence Minister in the morning,” said al-Bashir, commenting after the meeting. “Now we are launching a large programme to reequip our armed forces and we agreed with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia will help us with this. We would like to augment our presence in Russia by sending more military attaches here. We are concerned about the situation in the Red Sea. We believe US interference there is a problem. We would like to discuss the use of military bases in the Red Sea.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also held talks with his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in late August 2018. That bilateral meeting discussed a range of issues focusing on promoting joint projects for exploring mineral resources and creating infrastructure facilities. It reviewed the possibility of building a logistics centre at the port of Eritrea.

“We are willing to provide every assistance in order to normalise the situation across the Horn of Africa,” Lavrov said in remarks during the media conference following the meeting. “I am confident that in addition to political stabilisation, this will help create excellent opportunities for deepening regional economic integration. We will facilitate such processes and encourage Russian companies to participate in prospective multilateral projects such as building regional transport corridors, cross-border pipelines and others.”

In early November 2020, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved a draft agreement on the creation of a naval logistics base in the Port of Sudan, according to the Russian government’s legal information web portal. There was also a preliminary agreement on the part of Sudan.

According to a draft of the agreement, the facility “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.” The signed agreement culminates Russia’s search for military spots along the Mediterranean and in the Red Sea region. With the significant growth in risks and threats, including all-year-round piracy especially on the coast of Somalia, the choice of Sudan has comparative advantages for Russia.

According to the text of the agreement, the naval logistics centre will house up to 300 people, including both naval service members and civilian personnel. The base can host up to four naval vessels, including nuclear-powered ones. The Sudanese government will provide Russia with the necessary port infrastructure and a plot of land free of charge.

In addition to the naval base, the bilateral agreement confirms that Russia will deliver weapons and military equipment to Sudan for free, in exchange for air defence at the Russian naval base. It allows Russia to transfer “any kind of military equipment or munition, equipment or material” through Sudanese ports that are required for the centre. The centre will function under Russian jurisdiction, and the agreement will last for 25 years, with the option to renew it for another 10-year period.

With a population of 43 million, Sudan is the third-largest country in the Arab world. The economy is described as lower-middle-income and relies on oil production despite long-term international sanctions and isolation. Agriculture remains the main source of income and gives employment to over 80 per cent of Sudan’s people. Russia has had good diplomatic relations with the country since the Soviet era. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 November 2020]

Kester Kenn Klomegah

The author Kester Kenn Klomegah writes about Russia, Africa and BRICS.  During his professional career as a researcher specializing in Russia-Africa policy, which spans nearly two decades, he has been detained and questioned several times by federal security services for reporting facts. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted in a number of reputable foreign media.

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