Somalilandsun: In the recent past local and international media houses have been buzzing with news of an impending Russian military base in either one of the Somaliland ports of Sayla or Berbera.
If this are not rumours as they now stand then such a military base will be the only one Russian within the Gulf of Aden and its vicinity which is home to a multitude of such foreign facilities manned by the US, EU, Iran, China, France and others mainly based in tiny Djibouti.
Though the rumoured Russian quest for a base in Somaliland have been doing the circles for over two years now the new York times brought matters to the front recently through a piece titled “Russia Exerts Growing Influence in Africa, Worrying Many in the West”
According to the NYT Russia has in the recent past intensified its relations with African countries thence an increase in Moscow’s influence in the continent.
The influential paper quoted Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the head of the military’s Africa Command, or Africa as revealing that “Russian officials are looking to establish a base in Berbera port on the coast of Somaliland, a self-declared autonomous administration of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden,
If this materializes Russia will join China, the United States and other foreign powers who have bases in Djibouti along the Suez Canal.
Russia which is a world power has since the collapse of the Soviet Union missing militarily and politically from The Horn of Africa which is strategically important for a number of reasons, amongst others because it allows both power projection into the Middle East and influences over the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden.
The Russian government has not shied away from the rumoured foray into Somaliland with the Kremlin revealing that it is closely monitoring the port city of Berbera as a military base.
In Washington through the US AFRICOM Command based in Djibouti the US has indicated its worries of a Russian military base anywhere in Somaliland due to the proximity of its forces as well as the attendant lose of influence.
During a briefing to the US Senate Armed Forces Committee, the Africom Commander Gen. Stephen J. Townsend came out as one of the most concerned with the increasing influence of Russia and China in Africa and more so in the Horn.
Africa is a global crossroads with strategic choke points and sea lines of commerce that are critical to U.S. operations in the world, Townsend told the Senate panel. Future U.S. security and prosperity rest on access to this strategic asset in times of crisis and ensuring these waters remain free, open and secure, he said. Africom is engaged in an ongoing, blank-slate review in concert with the Defense Department, he noted.
“We’ve developed a prioritized list of objectives and actions to protect the homeland and secure our strategic interests in Africa while ensuring the American taxpayers’ investments are in the right areas,” the Africom commander said.
Africa is key terrain for competition with China and Russia, which are aggressively using economic and military means to expand their access and influence, Townsend said. “I believe Africa offers America a competitive edge over China and Russia, and we should take advantage of it,” he added.
Townsend said Africom will grow more efficient to contribute to higher defense priorities and refocus resources to global power competition, but cannot take pressure off major terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS, adding that such groups and others remain an “inconvenient reality” in Africa.
“While we should not try to confront each one, we should remain resolute in confronting those who threaten Americans and the American homeland, like al-Shabab — the largest, most violent of al-Qaida’s branches,” Townsend said. “Today, Africa does that with a light and relatively low-cost footprint by supporting African and international partners who are leading these efforts.”
For the second time in a similar number of years senior Russian diplomatic and military officers have visited Somaliland both overtly and covertly.
At a function in December 2017 in Berbera officiated by then Somaliland President Silanyo and senior UAE government and DP world company officials the DP World officially took over the management of the port of Berbera, thence start of its mandate.
Very visible in attendance was deputy Russian ambassador to Djibouti flanked by his military attaché clothed in full military regalia.
Following this initial foray reports started circulating to the effect that Moscow was is in talks with Hargeisa as Persians the setting up of a Russian naval base of at least 1500 men outside Zeila, a city near the border with Djibouti to offer support to warships and submarines patrolling the strategic stretch of coastline.
The second but now covert foray by Russians to Somaliland ensued in n December 2019, when a group of Russian military officers were granted visas to visit Somaliland.
While the visit took place it was unofficial thence no acknowledgement by the authorities in Hargeisa. Sources indicate that the group of Russian military officers Vladmir Babkov, Maksim Grishin, Anton Putekhov and Dmitry Shtanko had travelled to Djibouti and immediately flew to Hargeisa, Somaliland via Air Djibouti.
During their covert sojourn in Somaliland the officers are said to have upon a short stay in Hargeisa visited Berbera where they spent the bulk of their time from where they chartered a boat to the west of Berbera all the way to Zeila
Geeska Afrika enquiries on the Russian military officers visit Somaliland at the country’s diplomatic office in Djibouti were not fruitful this cannot confirm the said 100%.
According to our sources in the US a visit by Somaliland officials led by Silanyo to Washington in 2016 meetings held with senators and members of congress dwelt on the increasing Russian influence in Africa and the rumoured Kremlin quest for a military base in Somaliland.
The source indicate that the Somaliland delegation asked the Americans to reconsider their stance on recognition if their country as sovereign nation from Somalia
The main argument being that if china can establish a base in Djibouti why not a Russian or US one in Somaliland.
As matters stand now the issues of a Russian want of a military base both naval and air force in Somaliland is no longer a rumour or an allegation but an international acknowledged fact.
This quest now seems more achievable considering the current Somaliland president Muse Behi Abdi is a Russian trained air force who also speaks the language fluently.
Though Muse Behi attended during his military days various US academies he gained his main qualifications a Degree from the Air Force Academy of Pilots 1973 Dushanbe, Kyzktan Republic, Ex USSR
Similarly the right hand man of president Behi is the interior minister Mohamed Kahin a former Colonel in the Somalia army and a Russian trained officer too.
According to local analysts the Russian connection in Somaliland including that of main opposition political leader Abdirahman Irro of Wadani party a former diplomat attached to Russia ants fluent Russian speaker , are avenues that give the Kremlin to pursue its military base intensively.
“This close Russian connection that senior Somaliland officials bear are avenues the Kremlin is surely pursing thus enhance its influence in the Horn of Africa via Somaliland.
For many in Somaliland where the UAE has been granted a military base in Berbera seen as useless in all spheres be it political, economically or otherwise, the entrance of Russia as an owner of a military base in the country is much welcome for it accrues many benefits, be it politically or economically not to mention the assured recognition of Somaliland and a sovereign nation, a quest that the so called friends in the West and US have made elusive for three decades to the chagrin of all.
And who cares in Somaliland if Experts believe a new “Scramble for Africa” is unfolding
with the main players are China, the EU and the US. India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, South Korea and the Gulf countries are also interested in increasing cooperation with Africa.
For Russia’s volume of trade and economic interaction with Africa is inferior to almost all of the above mentioned players, thence a benefit for Somaliland to join forces with the Kremlin though Russia’s trade with Africa accounts for less than $12billion.