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Sudan may become Russian’s key to Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Over the years Russia and Sudan have maintained a strong economic and diplomatic partnership and resultantly Russian leader Vladimir Putin has expressed readiness to help with delivery of military weapons and hardware during diplomatic consultations with President of the Republic of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, in Sochi.

Al-Bashir, who is wanted by The International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes related to the Darfur conflict, visited Russia on Nov. 23. Al-Bashir has denied charges against him and continues to travel to various countries with impunity, despite being wanted by the Hague-based court. 

While the two sides exchanged opinions on the development of Russian-Sudanese relations and topical international issues, including the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Omar Al-Bashir officially made a request for delivery of Russian weapons what he called “protection from aggressive US actions.”

“We are primarily opposed to US interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries, in particular US interference in Iraq. We believe that the problems the region is now facing have been caused by US interference,” he said. 

Omar Al-Bashir added “We think the situation that developed in our country (the same applies to Darfur and South Sudan) has the same roots – US policy. As a result, our country split into two parts, which made a bad situation worse. We need protection from aggressive US actions.”

Sudan has become the first Arab country to acquire the fourth generation Su-35 fighter jets from Russia just ahead of the visit. The first batch of  jets were delivered to the country and considered the backbone air superiority fighters for the Russian airforce. The UAE signed a similar agreement earlier this year to develop the same jets with Russia.

Sudanese deputy air force commander, Salahuddin Abdul Khaliq Saeed, announced the deal in March. He told Sputnik news agency that the aircraft will contribute to the consolidation of Sudan’s defenses and will provide it protection from any threat.

The number of fighters delivered, however, was not released. However, Izvestia financial newspaper pegged the total cost of arms delivery, modernization of Soviet military hardware and training of military staff at $1 billion.

Amnesty International had slammed Russia for breaking the UN arms embargo on Darfur, Russians sold weapons like Mi-24 helicopters, Antonov 26 planes, Russian weapons sales to Sudan. It was reported these weapons were used to slaughter Darfur civilians. Sudan’s deadly conflict in Darfur broke out in 2003 when ethnic minority groups took up arms against Al-Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, which launched a brutal counter-insurgency. 

The UN says at least 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced as a result of the conflict. Top Sudanese officials including Al-Bashir now claim that the conflict has ended, but the region continues to see regular fighting between myriad ethnic and tribal groups.

Russia-Sudan economic relations continue to develop but currently the total volumes remain unimpressive and only one-sided. Last year, there was a 66 percent growth, and over 80 percent in the first nine months of 2017.

The Sudan is a major buyer of Russian grain. This year, Russia is expecting to boost grain supplies to the market to one million tons. On the other hand, Sudan plans to introduce, for the first time, the Sudanese vegetables and fruits to the Russian market.

Russia also plans to cooperate in the energy sector, including geological prospecting, production and resource exchanges. The hydrocarbons sector, the power industry and the development of the civilian nuclear power industry also have good prospects. In addition, Russian companies are particularly interested in geology, peaceful uses of nuclear energy and construction of nuclear power plants, so also in agriculture and railways.

Interestingly, Omar Al-Bashir has offered to help Russia in Africa. He said that “Sudan has extensive ties in Africa and can help Russia develop relations with African countries. Sudan may become Russian’s key to Africa. We are a member of the African Union.” 

“We have great relations with all African nations and we are ready to help. We are also interested in developing relations with BRICS,” he concluded assertively.

Ahead of Sudanese leader’s visit, H.E. Mr. Nadir Babiker, Ambassador of Sudan in the Russian Federation, explained to me in an interview that his country was considering promoting small and medium-scale businesses as part of strengthening economic cooperation between two countries.

“Actually, we are focusing on the small and medium scale business, because it satisfies our requirements for the transfer of technology, and there is a mutual desire from both sides to cooperate in this field. We have been visiting different regions in the Russian Federation, to extend cooperation with industries in these regions,” Babiker told Buziness Africa in Moscow.

Sudan’s Minister of Minerals, Hashim Ali Salim, said that Sudan wants Russian companies and investors to contribute to the development of its mining industry. “There are now 35 metal reserves in Sudan, but only 13 are mined. We call on all companies to invest in other metals, in their extraction and processing. Doors are open to all Russian companies,” Salim said.

Vladimir Putin told his counterpart and his delegation that cooperation in all these areas was possible and the visit would mutually benefit both countries.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Russia and Comoro Islands Cooperate To Enhance Bilateral Relations

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On November 8-10, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Comoro Islands, El-Amine Souef, paid his first official working visit to Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with him on November 9.

After the talks, Lavrov told the media conference that they had confirmed to continue promoting bilateral cooperation in many spheres and work together towards using the existing potential in both countries.

There is considerable potential for cooperation in fishing, renewable energy, the provision of fresh water and agriculture.

“We have agreed to help our business communities establish direct ties and we also exchanged opinions on international issues, reaffirming the identity or similarity of our views,” Lavrov said.

They exchanged of views on international and regional issues of mutual interest with an emphasis on preventing and defusing crises in Africa and the Middle East, struggling against piracy in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean and countering terrorism and extremism.

Lavrov reminded that Moscow firmly supports the principle formulated by the African countries, that is “African solutions to African problems” and urged Africans to find ways of settling conflicts while the international community provides the necessary assistance through the African Union and sub-regional African organisations with the coordinating role of the UN.

Under a memorandum signed by the ministers, Russia will be training law enforcement personnel for the Comoro Islands.

Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, observes that foreign assistance is very essential to transform the economy and improve living standards of the population on the Comoro Islands.

Thus, Russia’s economic engagement is needed at this time, most importantly, to maintain stability and turn around the opportunities into an attractive place. With a relatively small investment, Russia could achieve important results for the Islands, so the first step should be genuine commitment, he told me in an emailed interview from Johannesburg.

One of the world’s poorest and smallest economies, the Islands are hampered by inadequate transportation links. It has a rapidly increasing population and few natural resources.

The low educational level of the labour force contributes to a subsistence level of economic activity and a heavy dependence on foreign grants and technical assistance. France, the colonial power, still remains a key trading partner and bilateral donor.

Russia established diplomatic relations with the Comoro Islands after it gained independence from France on 6 July 1975. In mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community with 15 other regional member states.

The most common language is Shikomoro, a Swahili dialect. French and Arabic are also widely spoken. About 57% of the population is literate. The Islands, with a population of about 1.2 million, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, to the east is Mozambique and northwest is Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

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Russia’s Growing Clout in Asia Pacific Region

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In their strategic calculus, the Asia Pacific major powers as well as other countries do not consider Russia a major military power for the region. Although these Asia Pacific countries understand Russia’s military clout in Europe and Middle East, they somehow fail to see how overall Russian military might have an impact in the Asia Pacific region too.

Accordingly, the growing influence of Russia in the region finds less attention on the regional media outlets, the regional discussion platforms and the think tank papers produced across the region. This is a total contrast to Russian involvement in Europe and Middle East, something which receives huge coverage. Despite the low coverage of its engagement in the Asia Pacific, Russia’s geopolitical presence is increasing in the region.

Although its military and economic involvements in the Asia Pacific reduced significantly after the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia has over the last decade improved and enhanced its military might significantly, making its military a potent power in the region.

Russia has been selling weapons and other advanced military technology to the Asia-Pacific countries in order to bring these countries into its geopolitical orbit. Besides its close military relations with both China and India, Russia is increasingly building good relations with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand.

Furthermore, Russia is on a spree of building certain infrastructures in several Asia Pacific countries which would make those countries dependent on Russia for the proper functionality of those infrastructures. Take Bangladesh’s nuclear plant for example. Russia is setting up a nuclear-powered power plant in Bangladesh, and this infrastructure would certainly make Bangladesh dependent on Russia for the technological aspects of the project. Bangladesh has also been purchasing heavy weapons and military vehicles from Russia.

Recently this year, many regional countries were alarmed by Russia’s large scale war games. The fact that the war games was conducted in the eastern part of Russia – which forms part of the Asia Pacific region, unlike Russia’s western part that forms part of Europe – makes it an alarming development for the Asia Pacific region.

According to an Australian news website, the war games, namely Vostok-2018 or East-2018, involved more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 tanks, 1000 aircraft, helicopters and drones and 80 warships and support vessels.

More alarming was the inclusion of the Chinese military into the war games alongside the Russians. Around 3500 Chinese troops were said to have taken part in the Russian war games. Troops from Mongolia too joined the drills.

Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defense Minister, boasted about the drills saying, “Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles – and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible.”

Condemning the drills, NATO said the war games “demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict”.

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Putin Pushes Business, Bogdanov Advocates Development

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On November 6, while chairing a meeting of the Commission for Military Technology Cooperation with Foreign States, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for renewed efforts, not only, in preserving, but also, in strengthening Russia’s leading position on the global arms market, primarily in the high-tech sector, amid tough competition.

“Our capabilities in the military technical sphere must be used to modernise and upgrade all our industries, to support our science and to create a powerful technological potential for the country’s dynamic development,” he told the close-doored meeting.

Putin further called for reliance on the rich experience in this sphere and building up consistently military technology cooperation with foreign states.

Russian manufacturers have the advantage of an unfailingly high quality of products, which have no analogue in their combat and technical characteristics. Russia values its reputation of being a conscientious and responsible participant in military technology cooperation.

“We strictly observe international norms and principles in this area. We supply weapons and military equipment solely in the interests of security, defence and anti-terrorism efforts. In each case, we thoroughly assess the situation and try to predict the developments in the specific region. There are no bilateral contracts ever targeted against third countries, against their security interests,” he explained.

Putin suggested that “the changing conditions in which we have to trade in military equipment require some adjustment of existing approaches and development of a new integrated strategy for the future.”

Over the past years, strengthening military-technical cooperation has been part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Russia has signed bilateral military-technical cooperation agreement nearly with all African countries.

Early October, Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, has urged global community “to go beyond military cooperation” to assist African countries that are still facing a number of serious development problems.

“Joint efforts of the whole global community are required for meeting those challenges, I am confident that the aid to African states should go beyond military components. It is necessary to fortify public institutions, engage in economic and humanitarian fields, construct infrastructure facilities, create new jobs,” Bogdanov said, adding “those are the ways of solving such problems as migration, for example, to Europe.”

Bogdanov was contributing to the panel discussions on the topic: “Engaging Africa in Dialogue: Towards a Harmonious Development of the Continent” at the Dialogue of Civilisations Forum that was held from October 5-6 in Rhodes, Greece.

Kremlin website reported that, in recent years, Russia’s global export of military products has been at a consistently high level, around $15 billion.

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