Russian leader Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian Defense Ministry to sign an agreement with Sudan to establish a naval base on the Red Sea. This would be the second Russian naval base in the region, along with the Soviet-era Tartus facility in Syria. This new base will expand Russian military capabilities and also add to its global presence, a major goal of Putin’s.
It also appears to be part of Russia’s strategy of establishing new ties with Soviet-era allies in the Middle East and North Africa. Putin likely also sees Sudan as a springboard to the region since Russian military advisers and Wagner Group “mercenaries” have been reported in neighboring Libya and the Central African Republic.
Challenging the diminished U.S. presence is also a significant goal.
Regarding the new base, DW reported that:
A draft agreement published by Russia only provides for a logistics and repair base on the Red Sea for the time being; however, the navy would be allowed to station up to 300 military staff there — enough to supply four warships, regular- and nuclear-powered. Presumably the focus is on nuclear-powered submarines rather than ships as Russia’s fleet only has one operational nuclear-powered battle cruiser, the Pyotr Veliki (Russian for Peter the Great). A second battle cruiser is currently being modernized.
DW added that Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the former Russian Navy chief of staff, told the Interfax news agency that “It is a tense region,” and the fight against pirates around the Horn of Africa justified Russia’s establishing a base. Kravchenko added that “A Russian naval presence there is necessary.”
The Admiral also hinted that this repair and logistics base could grow to become a full-fledged naval base in the near future.
Annette Weber of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs noted in DW that: “The Red Sea has become a geopolitical hotspot,” specifically referencing the war in Yemen, in which several countries — including Sudan — are involved. Weber added, “It’s a fantastic deal for Russia” that has strengthened its influence.
But never discount economic motives for the Kremlin. Apart from influence and prestige, Russia could also be after raw materials in Sudan.
The country’s gold in particular might be a major reason for Russia’s increasing ties to Sudan, with reports of Russian soldiers and Wagner Group’s nominally private “mercenaries” guarding the gold mines in the north.
Along with those ties to Sudan and the new naval base also comes the power for Russia to “cut off trade routes in case of conflict with the West,” Alexander Golz, a Russian military journalist, told DW.
Putin has a host of reasons to be establishing a base in Sudan. It is up to the U.S. and the West to craft an effective strategy to counter him.