The head of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, left Khartoum on Wednesday for the Russian capital Moscow.
The RSF announced on its official Arabic account on Twitter that Gen Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, is making the official trip at the invitation of the Russian government.
It said he will be holding talks with senior Russian officials in his capacity as the deputy head of the Sovereign Council and is leading a delegation of ministers from the interim government.
Sudan’s army chief, General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, who led a military takeover in October that removed the country’s transitional government, appointed in November a new governing Sovereign Council.
Gen Al Burhan remained the head of the council, while Gen Dagalo kept his post as his deputy.
The visit comes as Sudan is still reeling under continuing protests in Khartoum and several cities led by pro-democracy activists, who reject military rule and have dismissed the formation of the Sovereign Council as an “extension to the coup”.
Gen Al Burhan’s move has been met with wide condemnation from the international community and suspension of vital US aid, with many countries calling for the restoration of a civilian-led government.
The army rejects such proposals as interference in Sudan's internal affairs, while rejecting the accusation that it has carried out a coup. The generals insist they only intervened when some politicians had earlier tried to “hijack the policy-making process”, causing the civilian government to drift deeper into animosity and division.
Their main criticism was reserved for the Forces of Freedom of Change, the pro-democracy umbrella group that had led the 2019 uprising against Al Bashir and formed the power base of former prime minister Abdallah Hamdok.
There are no details about the nature of the talks to be held by Gen Dagalo in Moscow but the visit comes in the shadow of an escalating crisis between Russia and Ukraine, with Russian troops deploying in force inside breakaway parts of the former Soviet republic.
The West announced a range of sanctions on Russian financial interests after Moscow recognised on Monday the independence of the so-called people's republics of Luhansk and Donetsk and endorsed the separatists in the region.
It also comes at a time when western military involvement in Africa could be waning. Last week, France announced the withdrawal of its 2,400 troops from Mali after a decade-long anti-extremist operation in the Sahel region in Africa, which also includes Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia and Algeria.
Tension has grown between Mali, its African neighbours and the EU, especially after the West African country’s transitional government allowed Russian mercenaries to operate in its territory.