Somalia is biting the Russian hand that literally feeds it for free, thus flipping around the dynamics upon realizing this and making one wonder who put HSM up to doing so.

By Andrew Korybko

Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM) slammed Russia twice last week while speaking at an event hosted by Italy’s Med-Or Foundation. From 16:47-17:21 of that think tank’s official video here, he compared last month’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ethiopia and Somaliland to Russia’s “annexation” of Ukrainian-claimed territories. He then criticized Wagner from 23:39-25:07 as being akin to Blackwater in terms of human rights abuses and stirring regional instability.

Making matters even worse, HSM claimed shortly before his first anti-Russian remarks from 12:51-13:13 that there’s a “hidden hand” behind the MoU, which preconditioned his audience into thinking that it might perhaps be Russia after he then compared that agreement to its actions in Eastern Europe. From 17:37-18:08, right after he first slammed that country, he then reaffirmed his belief that someone is behind Ethiopia and that they’re supposedly motivated by a “greater game” in the Red Sea.


These claims and the implied innuendo that Russia might be the one that put Ethiopia up to signing the MoU with Somaliland are already scandalous enough, but it’s all the more disrespectful when remembering that Russia has sent two free shipments of wheat to Somalia in recent months. This means that Somalia is biting the hand that literally feeds it for free, thus flipping around the dynamics upon realizing this and making one wonder who put HSM up to doing so.

While some might be prone to suspecting Egypt, whose leader recently saber-rattled against his country’s historical rival Ethiopia while hosting HSM in Cairo late last month, it’s unlikely that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would backstab his close friend Vladimir Putin like that. Their countries cooperate on a range of strategic issues, including military-technology and nuclear energy, so he wouldn’t risk ruining that just for Somalia’s sake, which can’t replace lost Russian support in those nationally significant fields.

Much more plausible is the possibility that HSM might be operating under Eritrean influence, whose leader, Isaias Afwerki, has reverted to his traditional paranoia of Ethiopia following a brief thaw in bilateral ties from 2018-2022 after November 2022’s ceasefire deal between Addis and the TPLF. He abandoned his short-lived regional pragmatism in favor of returning to Eritrea’s policy of containing Ethiopia after regarding the aforesaid agreement as a betrayal of the incipient Ethiopian-Eritrean friendship.

From then till now, Eritrean intelligence has leveraged its agents of influence in social media to fearmonger about Ethiopia’s geopolitical intentions, not to mention the work that its diplomats have done in this respect when interacting with their regional counterparts like Somalia’s. The combined effect is that many Somalians were misled into thinking that Ethiopia wants to annex Somaliland after those two signed their MoU last month even though that’s not the case whatsoever at all in reality.

Somalia Shouldn’t Bite The Russian Hand That Literally Feeds It For FreeThis analysis here concisely describes the regional security dilemma that Afwerki was solely responsible for reviving, this one here details all dimensions of the MoU, while this final one here explains why it was actually Eritrea and Somalia that violated 2018’s tripartite agreement with Ethiopia, not Addis. Casual readers don’t need to review those pieces, but they’re being shared for the interest of those who’d like to learn more about the complicated military-strategic factors at play in the region nowadays.

Moving along, Afwerki traveled to Russia twice last year, the first time to meet bilaterally with President Putin and the second to participate in the second Russia-Africa Summit. Both strengthened their relations but can now be seen in hindsight given what’s since been revealed about Eritrea’s intentions as a sly way to try currying more favor with Russia than Ethiopia, its traditional partner, has always enjoyed. In other words, it was a gentle and non-hostile way of countering Ethiopia, but that didn’t succeed.

While Russian-Eritrean ties remain solid, so much so that Russia recently shipped free wheat to Eritrea as well, Russian-Ethiopian ones remain even better like they’ve always been as proven by Russia pledging last week to closely coordinate their approaches within the UN and BRICS. Russia’s special presidential envoy for the Middle East and Africa also shared a “confidential exchange of views on pressing regional issues focused on the situation in the Horn of Africa” with Ethiopia’s Deputy Foreign Minister too.

Russia’s balancing act in the Horn of Africa, which was described in the first of the three earlier cited analyses, is aimed at promoting mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries without this being at the objective expense of anyone else. Even so, paranoid leaders like Afwerki and emotionally driven ones like HSM might still perceive the comprehensive strengthening of Russian-Ethiopian relations as being against their interests, which is the context within which the latter’s scandalous remarks were made.

Already being predisposed to conspiracy theories as it is, to say nothing of feverishly hating Ethiopia for bigoted reasons disguised as “Somalian nationalism”, HSM was susceptible to suggestions about Russia being the “hidden hand” behind last month’s MoU. Somalia is still bitter about the Soviet Union’s support for Ethiopia during the 1977-1978 Ethio-Somalian War while Eritrea still feels the same about that erstwhile state’s backing of the Marxist Derg’s counterinsurgency against their rebel movement.

HSM also visited Eritrea in early January shortly before traveling to Egypt, so Afwerki might have used the opportunity to cleverly sow the seeds of last week’s Russian conspiracy theory in his mind. To be clear, Russian-Eritrean relations remain strong, but there’s a logic to this mastermind manipulating his Somalian counterpart in such a way so as to advance their shared perceived interests vis-à-vis Ethiopia. After all, Afwerki has a well-earned reputation for craftiness, and his capabilities shouldn’t be doubted.

There’s also the chance of course that HSM just made this all up on the fly or shortly before his trip to Italy with the intent of increasing the odds that the West will support his hoped-for but arguably doomed-to-failed planned reconquest of Somaliland on a faux anti-Russian basis. That possibility can’t be ruled out, but he isn’t known to be the most creative thinker to put it nicely so someone would have probably influenced what he said ahead of time, thus circling back to the Eritrean scenario.

Whatever the reason may be, he’s his own man and the leader of his own country, so HSM must ultimately take responsibility for his words, which were extremely disrespectful and undiplomatic. Biting the Russian hand that literally feeds Somalia for free, which Moscow does with no strings attached in order to counteract propaganda about its commitment to the Global South and prevent more regional instability, looks very bad. It brings shame to his nation and the people that he represents.

He probably doesn’t care though seeing as how he concluded the event by asking Italy to take back control of its colonial-era plantations in what he spun as an attempt to strengthen people-to-people ties but which was an implied quid-pro-quo for backing his military against Somaliland as was argued here. Russia is unlikely to react to what he just said such as by publicly protesting or suspending its free wheat shipments, but it’ll certainly do its best to discover who put him up to this and why.

(The article was first published on on February 4, 2024.)

Andrew Korybko 

Andrew Korybko

A Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the global systemic transition to multipolarity.

Follow him @AKorybko