27 April 2023 | In Sudan, fierce fighting with many civilian casualties has broken out between the troops of two generals who have been governing the country together. Media present the issue as a simple rivalry between two generals hungry for dictatorial power. However, a fact that is conspicuously absent from the reports might play a role: Russia was about to seal a deal with Sudan to establish a naval base on Sudan’s red sea coast.
As an example of many western news reports of the Situation in Sudan, take a long analysis by Chatham House, a report sponsored by UK-Aid, published about ten days before the fighting started. There is not a word about this naval base issue, even though it must be of paramount importance to the US and British governments. Similiarly, none of the many the-war-in-Sudan-explained stories that we are served these days mentions it.
There are some news stories by CNN and others, though, claiming that Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group is supporting one of the two warring sides, namely Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). No explanation is provided as to why they would do that.
In February, however, there was a report by ABC News titled “Sudan military finishes review of Russian Red Sea base deal”. According to the report, Sudan’s military had concluded a review of the agreement with Russia to build a navy base and apporved it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is quoted as saying htat the deal still needs ratification by Sudan’s yet-to-be-formed legislative body, before coming into effect.
Sudan had originally made the agreement allowing Moscow to build the base during the government of former President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was ousted from power in 2019. According to the report, Russia would provide Sudan with weapons and military equipment in exchange for the right to establish the naval base, which was to last for 25 years, with automatic extensions for 10-year periods if neither side objects.
This makes it seem like the Russian government should have liked to see the transition from military to civilian government go ahead as envisaged in a deal brokered by the UN and various countries in December 2022.
On the other side, the US-government has made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that it does not like the idea of a Russian naval base at the Red Sea. In early September 2022, it sent the first full-ranked ambassador in 25 years to Sudan. At the end of the same month already, he warned the generals governing Sudan quite bluntly and publicly not to allow Russia to establish a naval base on its Red Sea coast. He said:
“If the government of Sudan decides to proceed with the establishment of this facility, or to renegotiate it, it will be harmful to Sudan’s interest. (…) All countries have a sovereign right to decide which other countries to partner with, but these choices have consequences, of course.”
Media taking sides
RSF commander Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo has been working to establish ties to Russia. In February 2022 he went for a week of negotiations to Moscow an came back saying that his country didn’t have objections to Russia establishing a base. He also has much closer ties to Ethiopia and Eritrea htan his adversary, countries, wich also have governments which do not get along very will with the US government.
His adversary, army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, on the other hand, has a close relationship to Egypt, an important ally of the US.
Reading western news reports about the situation in Sudan, one can infer from what is left out, which side the West is on. Most reports dwell on Dagalo and almost ignore Burhan, creating the impression that Dagalo is the main actor, and thus culprit, in this conflict.
At the same time, there is a noticeable absence of clear condemnation by the US or the EU of the ruthless aerial bombings of the civilian population by Khartoum. The Western media is also avoiding the subject of who is doing the bombing or reports about it quite matter-of-factly. army under General Burhan, since the RSF and Dagalo do not have an air force to command. If they happen in the western part of Ukraine, those responsible for bombings of civilian targets are condemmed with much less restraint by the media and governments of the free world.
What happended earlier
The U.S. has had Sudan with North Korea, Iran and Syria on its list of state terror supporters until the end of 2020, which meant Sudan received little financial support from international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF, as well as other governments. Since oil-rich South Sudan seceded in 2011 with U.S. support, there has been a chronic severe shortage of foreign currency.
In 2019, after months of protests and demonstrations, a military coup ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir. A mixed civil-military transitional government took office in September 2019. It was led by Abdalla Hamdok, a British-trained economist who had previously worked for the UN. Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi was a U.S.-trained economist who had previously worked for the World Bank in Washington and was a visiting scholar at the Center for Global Development in Washington. Various governments and organizations and the World Bank offered financial support. But the thaw came to an end in October 2021 with a new military coup led by General Burhan.
Since very few reliable reports about the background of the events in Sudan are available, one cannot do much more than speculate which strings are being pulled there and by whom. But one thing can be assumed: the narrative of an internal power struggle that is largely independent of foreign influence is almost certainly false. This region is far too important geostrategically for that.
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