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USA and Russia fan the flames of civil war while Sudan suffers

By Gugulethu Hughes 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

Sudan’s current conflict is a product of power struggles between the Russia Federation and the United States of America. The two superpowers are not the only countries responsible for the ever-prevailing strife in Sudan, but recent tensions playing out in Ukraine are being exported everywhere else around the world.  

While the USA seeks to maintain its role as the chief dictator of the world, Russia is leading the resistance movement near its borders while making economically strategic moves all over the world. Like all countries in the Horn of Africa, Sudan finds itself a victim of its positioning in the Red Sea, a victim of its gold resources, and a victim of forced USA custodianship. The other countries fighting for their place in Sudan are UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Israel, Qatar, and Iran. All these countries are either proxies of the USA or Russia, and the tussles always point back to US-Russo confrontations. 

Omar al-Bashir, who occupied the role of President for three decades until his removal from power in a 2019 coup, had always been a stumbling block for the USA in Sudan. In 1993, three years after al-Bashir assumed power following a 1989 coup aided by Islamists, the USA blacklisted Sudan and marked the country as a State-sponsor of terrorism. USA embassy operations were suspended in 1996. 

Since then, the USA has used economic sanctions on Sudan to force regime change. The good relationships al-Bashir had with many Arab states ensured the impact of the sanctions wouldn’t be all-encompassing to the economy. 

Later in 2003, the United States allegedly embarked on planting seeds of discontent and civil wars. This eventually led to the Darfur and Khartoum internal military confrontations as al-Bashir fought against being deposed. The fighting and resulting killings, now marked as the Darfur Genocide, is what the International Criminal Court relied on in issuing warrants of arrest for al-Bashir in 2009 and in 2010. Removing al-Bashir from power continuously proved futile, however, and the Obama Administration in 2011 oversaw the secession of South Sudan from Sudan. The USA had placed itself firmly in a position to oversee the division of Sudan after the death of Former President of Southern Sudan John Garang after his death in a helicopter crash in 2005.  

Sudan is an oil rich country, and when the country got divided into North and South, the latter seceded with its high oil reserves. South Sudan exports crude to the North, which accounts for the bulk of logistics pipelines. 

The two countries’ relationship is intertwined but also serves as a lifetime spot for conflict and civil war. In 2017, Omar al-Bashir met with President Vladmir Putin, then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The meeting took place at the Sochi Black Sea Resort wherein al-Bashir requested President Putin to help him stop American acts of aggression. The meeting parties agreed on several things including the modernization of the Sudanese army. Al-Bashir was quoted as saying America has succeeded in dividing Sudan into two countries and that it was part of an American project to further divide the country. Al-Bashir was bullish on seeking strategic partnerships with Russia in the areas of oil, agriculture, and mining. The biggest outcome of the meeting was Al -Bashir signing deals with Russia that had a direct impact on the USA’s struggle for control of the 750km Red Sea area covered by Sudan. 

In his report to the Sudan News Agency, al-Bashir stated that he had entered into an agreement with Russia for the building of a nuclear power station that would generate up to 1200 megawatts of electricity and an additional floating power station with 80 megawatts capacity stationed at Port Sudan harbor. A total of 40 agreements were signed by the parties, including two Russian companies getting rights for mineral exploration and drawing mineral maps in Sudan.  

The other deal that would prove to be nerve-wracking for the United States was the agreement for Russia to build a naval base on the country’s Red Sea coast. The deal, set to be valid for 25 years and automatically renewable for 10-year periods, will see Russia establish a logistics support center in Port Sudan. The naval base is expected to uphold peace in the Horn of Africa region, and Russia’s navy will be expected to keep up to four ships at the base including nuclear-powered vessels. Russia will also reserve the right to transport weapons, ammunition, and equipment needed for the naval base to function. 

Earlier this year, during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit, the Sudanese authorities confirmed that their review of the naval base establishment had been completed and they were happy for Russia to proceed with execution. According to Maritime Executive, this deal will ensure the Russian Navy’s permanent presence in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean and would spare its ships long voyages to reach the area. The new base will also expand on the power projection support provided by the Russian naval base facility in Syria. 

Dryad Global provides an explanation of the Red Sea’s importance, particularly for global trade. This would explain why the USA and Russia are now in direct confrontation in Sudan after the approval of the Russian naval base establishment. The maritime lesson from Dryad Global is that, “The Red Sea, with its connection to the Suez Canal, is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, offering an alternative around the Cape of Good Hope route. It’s an essential channel, crucial to maintaining many countries’ political and economic stability. The geopolitical position of the Red Sea is important because it’s a natural border between the eastern coast of Africa and the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula and a vital route for the unarmed transportation of oil through the Bab El-Mandeb in the south to the Suez Canal in the North. As long as oil remains a primary source of energy for the world, this shipping lane will remain a vital channel for its transport from the Gulf. Militarily, it’s a vital navigation route between nations and their global bases and as such, has become a theatre for where regional conflict and competition play out.” 

For Russia and the USA, Dryad Global again offers an apt description of the two competing countries’ interests in the Red Sea. The USA depends on Arabian Gulf oil transported through the Red Sea to power its factories, homes, and maintain its economy. The main goal of the US military in the region is to ensure the uninterrupted transportation of oil to Western nations and to provide security to US petroleum companies operating in the region. In this respect, the Red Sea is the global control and command center for the flow of crude oil to Europe and beyond. The importance of the Red Sea is reflected in the location of US equipment and military bases across the Indian Ocean. The US interests in the region also serve as a countermeasure to Russia’s interests in the region. Since the late 1960s, the US has tried to build political and military alliances with regional players, offering financial and economic incentives to dissuade Russia’s influence. In the 1970s, the USA provided military facilities for both Kenya and Somalia to counter the Soviets without having to commit to direct confrontation. 

For Russia, the Red Sea is crucial as well. Their Southern Sea route contains the shortest waterline of communication between its European ports in the Black Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Suez is a fast and efficient route for Russia to support its military assets in the region. During the Cold War, Russia realized that Northern parts of the Indian Ocean could be used by the US to potentially deploy submarines and weapons systems targeting Russia. This compelled them to strengthen their influence in the region by building partnerships and by supporting radical and revolutionary movements – the antithesis to the US strategy. One example is the support Russia gave to the Mengistu Haile Mariam regime in Ethiopia which ultimately led to its military success over Somalia and Eritrea in 1978. In terms of economics, the Red Sea access is essential to Russia as it’s the only year-round maritime link between Europe and eastern Russia. It is a vital trade, shipping, and fishing access route, but unlike the US, they are less dependent on it to satisfy their nation’s oil needs. 

In maritime, there are what are known as choke points. These are basically passages or corridors of entry for ships as they move various seaborne shipments across the world. They are also defined as narrow channels connecting two bodies of water along widely-used sea routes. The Visual Capitalist provides a more graphic description of the many maritime chokepoints and goes further to highlight the geopolitical risks they present due to high traffic and their vulnerability to blockades or deliberate disruptions during times of political instability. The Suez Canal is one of the busiest choke points as it connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. More than 50% of seaborne cargo traveling from the East to the West goes through the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal mostly handles food trade, Petroleum, and LNG. Any superpower that gets to have strategic presence in the Red Sea gets a shot at determining the flow of trade through the Suez Canal, and this is another layer of confrontation between Russia and the United States. 

In 2021, the Trump administration removed Sudan from its blacklist leading to the signing of the Abraham Accords which marked the beginning of normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel, a key ally of the United States. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the Sudanese Military and the current President pending formation of a civilian government, had joined forces with Rapid Support Forces Leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo in pushing al-Bashir out of power. The USA won the chess game of turning Dagalo against his long-time ally al-Bashir which necessitated the rise of Burhan to de facto ruler of Sudan. This was the USA’s first attempt at reversing the naval base establishment that Khartoum under al-Bashir had reached with Moscow. 

General Abdel Fattah-al Burhan is the man for the USA-Israel-Egypt praxis while General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo has closer ties to Russia. The USA undermined the power and connections that General Dagalo held through the Rapid Support Forces which the USA had lined up for disintegration. General Dagalo also has good relations with the UAE who he assisted with military men in the country’s war against Yemen. He also owns gold mines and works closely with Russian mining companies. 

On the other hand, General Burhan enjoys close ties with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is an ally of the USA. General Burhan, at the advice of the USA, began excluding General Dagalo from engagements with Israel. This meant that while the Sudanese military did drills with Israel, the Rapid Support Forces were excluded. 

Earlier this year, President Putin sent Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Sudan to finalize the review and approval of the naval base agreement by both Generals Dagalo and Burhan. Both men approved the deal. 

The crisis that Sudan is facing now is a USA crisis. The latter has been outwitted by Russia in so far as building diplomatic ties with the transitional government. Russia has secured the green light to begin the process of executing the 25-year naval base agreement pending ratification by a civilian government which ought to have been formed by now. What makes the USA even more vulnerable in the Red Sea is the fact that China already has a naval base in Djibouti. 

As a means of delaying the project from happening, the USA is fanning unrest while playing the mediator role. The goal is to delay the formation of a civilian government in Sudan which will likely have General Dagalo as its key leader. This act by the USA automatically delayed the ratification of the naval base agreement and buys it more time to plot ways and means of “appointing.” 

In the meantime, while the two elephants fight, the people of Sudan sit at the receiving end while the toothless African Union is preoccupied with climate goals. All in all, the instability in the Horn of Africa is a direct outcome of the scramble for control of the Red Sea by the USA, Russia, China, and Arab nations. 

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Gugulethu Hughes


Gugulethu Hughes is the ScoonTV Africa correspondent

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