Sudan suspends port deal with Moscow

Russia says it has not been formally informed of the suspension

The Russian navy intelligence collection ship Ivan Khurs is docked at the port of the Sudanese city of Port Sudan, on April 27, 2021.  / AFP / Ibrahim ISHAQ
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Sudan informed Russia it was suspending an agreement granting Moscow permission to construct a naval base just north of Port Sudan, the country's main commercial hub on the Red Sea .

The government told Russia of its decision to rescind the Bashir-era agreement in a letter on Wednesday, a senior Sudanese military official said.

The pact will have to be reviewed by parliament, the letter read.

That body, the final piece of Sudan’s transitional administration, has yet to be created.

Work on the base has not yet started.

The Sudanese official denied local media reports that Russian navy personnel and military aircraft carrying equipment had arrived at the base, but he did confirm that a Russian military delegation visited Sudan last week.

The Russian embassy in Khartoum issued a brief statement on Thursday saying Moscow had not been formally informed of the Sudanese decision to suspend the agreement which, it said, had been awaiting ratification from relevant bodies in both countries.

The Sudanese government has yet to comment on the suspension of the 2017 agreement.

A Russian naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast would give Moscow a foothold on the coastline of a waterway rapidly growing in strategic significance.

It would be Moscow’s second base beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. In 2017, Russia signed a 49-year lease with Syria for a base in the northern port city of Tartus on the Mediterranean.

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Russia’s pursuit of building overseas military bases reflects the Kremlin’s increasingly assertive foreign policy under President Vladimir Putin, whose government has been subjected to US and EU sanctions over the annexation of Crimea.

Russia said the base in Sudan would “help strengthen peace and stability in the region” and was valid for 25 years, thereafter renewable every 10 years unless one of the two countries objected.

The site was expected to host as many as four vessels, including nuclear-powered ships, and be home to a maximum of 300 personnel.

It was to also provide supplies and routine maintenance to docked vessels.

In return, Russia would provide Sudan with weapons and military equipment including, according to Sudanese analysts, an air defence system covering the coastal region and the Russian base.

The agreement to grant Russia a naval base was signed in 2017 by former leader Omar Al Bashir and Mr Putin, possibly to secure Moscow’s goodwill during a time when Sudan was under crippling US sanctions.