A Russian Red Sea base there would let the Kremlin monitor shipping, including US warships, passing through the Red Sea on its way between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea via the Suez Canal

By Tom Parfitt


Russia is planning a naval base in Sudan as it vies for influence with the West, China, and the Gulf in the Red Sea.

A draft deal being put before President Putin by the government envisages a hub at Port Sudan for up to four ships and 300 troops. Under the bilateral agreement, Russian ships and nuclear-powered submarines could use it.

The base would boost its ability to project power into the Middle East, Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.

In 2017 the Chinese navy opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, East Africa, where the US also has a base.

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey are seeking to increase their influence in the Red Sea through commercial ports and military outposts. Three years ago Turkey opened a base in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Russia sees opportunities for economic co-operation and mutual investment with states in the region as well as rivalry, experts say.

Under the draft proposal, Russia would provide free military equipment to Sudan to establish an air defense system protecting naval wharves at Port Sudan. A Russian base there would let the Kremlin monitor shipping, including US warships, passing through the Red Sea on its way between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea via the Suez Canal.

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Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the former navy chief of staff, said that Russian ships were frequently in the Red Sea and a naval facility would give them a place for refueling and repairs. In the time it could become a fully-fledged base, he told the Interfax news agency.

“It’s a tense region,” he added. “Russia’s naval presence there is necessary. Of course, the operational capabilities of our fleet will be increased.”

In 2017 Omar al-Bashir, who was Sudan’s president, met Mr. Putin and asked him for “protection from aggressive US actions” in the Red Sea, suggesting Moscow establish a base.

Mr. Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court more than a decade ago for alleged war crimes, was ousted in April last year and has since been jailed for corruption.

Russia maintained ties with Sudan under the Transitional Military Council which took command of the country, and a military and technological co-operation agreement between Moscow and Khartoum was signed within weeks of Mr. Bashir’s departure. Under the deal, Russian warships were granted access to Sudanese ports.

Under Mr. Putin, Moscow has revived interest in economic and military partnerships in Africa. In October last year, more than 40 African leaders attended a two-day summit and forum in Sochi, heralding Moscow’s “return” to the continent as it competes for access to hydrocarbons, gold, diamonds, and other riches with the West, China, India and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Russia is a big supplier of weapons to the continent and a potential energy partner with experience in building nuclear power plants. Sudan is the largest buyer of Russian arms in Africa after Algeria, and Russian companies are also involved there in gold mining and exploration for natural gas.

Satellite images appear to show that four warships are already moored at the site proposed for the Russian base in Port Sudan.

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