Sudan confirmed Tuesday that he will review last year’s naval base deal with Russia following speculation in April that the deal could be suspended. According to Chief of Staff Muhammad Othman al-Hussein, who made the announcement during an interview with the Blue Nile television channel, this is due to the fact that “some of the provisions of the document cause some prejudice to the Sudan ”. He also reminded everyone that the deal has yet to be approved by the country’s legislature, so it was never legally binding to begin with. Moreover, the military official denied that Sudan’s decision had anything to do with American pressure.
It is not clear whether the latter claim is credible, since the United States significantly extended its influence in Sudan during its recent removal of the country from the State Department’s list of sponsor states for terrorism. This decision came in the aftermath of the coup against former President Omar al-Bashir, who was previously considered close to Russia but ended up close to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the years that preceded his army. sustained foreclosure. This political reorientation led him to send troops to aid the GCC war in Yemen and would also have served to gradually restore relations with the United States.
Either way, the uncertainty surrounding Russia’s Sudanese naval base project could hurt Moscow’s regional interests. I Explain the broad strategic contours of this movement with regard to Russia’s broader engagement with the international Muslim community (Ummah) as well as its economic importance given the location of the planned base in Port Sudan, the terminal point of ‘a Potentially promising Chinese Silk Road project extending across the Sahel.
If these plans are scuttled, whether due to US pressure or Sudan’s own prerogative, then Russia should consider a regional replacement as soon as possible. One of these scenarios could be to explore the pros and cons of building a similar facility in the breakaway Somali region of Somaliland. Unconfirmed reports circulated in early 2018 speculating that Russia was planning to establish such a base in the Djibouti border town of Zeila. Although this never happened, I nevertheless analysis what that would have meant in an article published at the time.
In the contemporary context, such a decision would certainly be somewhat risky for Russian soft power, since Moscow would essentially extend de facto support for the claims of sovereignty of the separatist region. This observation could conflict with Russia’s principled support for international law, which recognizes Somaliland as an integral part of the Federal Republic of Somalia and sows the seeds of mistrust between Moscow and Mogadishu. At the same time, however, one should not forget that the United Arab Emirates had a military base in Berbera, Somaliland, which was recently converted to a civilian installation.
The UAE previously relied on this base to support their war in Yemen, but as Oxford researcher Dr Samuel Ramani noted in his item for Al Monitor, “the United Arab Emirates are reorienting their Red Sea strategy away from direct military intervention and towards a synthesis of economic investment and remote power projection.” In other words, the UAE’s regional military engagement has allowed the country’s policy to evolve economically after opening the doors necessary for this to happen with Somaliland’s leadership.
Russia could in principle follow in the footsteps of the UAE, but more importantly without using its proposed base there for active military purposes as Abu Dhabi did with Yemen. Better yet, Russia should seriously consider entering into a comprehensive regional partnership with the UAE to strengthen its position across the Horn of Africa. I argued such a proposal would be the natural next step in their budding partnership of recent years, which has seen them coordinate more closely in Syria as good as expand military cooperation.
These developments confirm the increasingly independent nature of UAE foreign policy, as they contrast with its US ally’s efforts to contain Russia at all times. This testifies to the sincere confluence of interests between these two countries which is at the origin of their new era of relations. It should also be mentioned that the UAE is a major player in Ethiopia, which is the second most populous state in Africa whose capital is home to the African Union. The UAE’s plans for build a connectivity corridor between Ethiopia and Somaliland and resulting in Berbera could also, in theory, be used by Russia to develop trade with Ethiopia.
After all, Ethiopia has known one of the fastest growing economies in the world before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is therefore useful for Russia to consider expanding its relations with this landlocked state through transit entities, such as Somaliland, and its connectivity corridor built by the United Arab Emirates. . Even if Sudan agrees to abide by its non-binding agreement to host a Russian base on the Red Sea, that country may no longer serve as a gateway from Moscow to Ethiopia as planned after the resumption of the border conflict in the last year in the midst of the Addis Ababa war. military intervention in progress in the province of Tigray, hence the importance of actively seeking alternatives.
Djibouti may have been the one that comes to the minds of Russian policymakers first, but it is already home to quite a few foreign military installations, so the situation is very crowded there, to begin with. Moscow might not feel comfortable being “one among many”, preferring instead to have privileged military access to one or the other regional actor in order to serve as a springboard to broaden its relations globally. with its host, ergo the strategic interest to do so with Somaliland. Eritrea also remains an option, but it lacks reliable economic connectivity with Ethiopia, especially given the ongoing military conflict in neighboring Tigray province.
It is for these reasons that Somaliland is arguably the best alternative to Russia’s struggling Sudanese naval base plans if they are ultimately scuttled. That said, the downsides to this policy might be that Somalia takes offense at what it might claim to be Russia’s “interference” in its internal affairs through de facto recognition of Hargeisa’s claims to sovereignty. Nonetheless, the UAE already crossed that threshold several years ago without any tangible consequences, even though rival Turkey has a military base in Somalia proper. The recently close Russian-Turkish relations are therefore unlikely to suffer either.
Just to be safe, however, Russia might opt not to build a brand new military base in Somaliland, but rather explore the possibility of making a logistics pact with its port of Berbera. While this would also imply some acceptance of Hargeisa’s sovereignty, it would avoid the emergence of any military engagement with the breakaway region and could be justified by pragmatism. If it were forced to choose, it would arguably be better for Russia to try its luck with Somaliland in an effort to improve connectivity with Ethiopia rather than to avoid offending Somalia proper and forfeiting that opportunity. of promising connectivity.
Overall, Russia should start considering possible alternatives to its struggling Sudanese naval base plans. While Somaliland’s proposal carries risks for Russia’s soft power and bilateral relations with Somalia proper, these potential costs could be worth it if they lead to an expansion of ties with the United Arab Emirates and the United Arab Emirates. Ethiopia, which are much more attractive long-term partners for Moscow. . There would be nothing special about opening a base in crowded Djibouti if Russia were even allowed to do so, and Eritrea also lacks the potential for viable connectivity with Ethiopia, hence the which is why Somaliland should be given serious consideration instead.
From our partner RIAC