Russia plans Sudan naval base – a first foothold in Africa since Soviet era

The facility in Port Sudan will be able to house 300 military and civilian personnel and moor nuclear-powered vessels

FILE PHOTO: The Russian navy corvette Sovershenny and the Gazprom owned pipe-laying ship Akademik Cherskiy are seen offshore Vladivostok, Russia September 6, 2017. Picture taken September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
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Russia plans to build a naval base and logistics centre in Sudan capable of mooring nuclear-powered vessels as Moscow plans for its first major African footprint since the fall of the Soviet Union, President Vladimir Putin said on Monday.

The new facility, earmarked to be built in the vicinity of Port Sudan, will be capable of accommodating up to 300 military and civilian personnel and improve Russia's ability to operate in the Indian Ocean, expanding its influence in Africa.

Mr Putin held a Russia-Africa summit last year, an event designed to increase Moscow's influence on the continent, and two nuclear-capable Russian bombers landed in South Africa at the same time in a show of intent.

Mr Putin directed the Russian Defence Ministry to sign the agreement on behalf of the government, the state-run Tass news agency reported.

A draft document related to the issue made public this month by the government spoke of a facility that could moor no more than four ships at the same time. The centre would be used for repair and resupply operations and as a place where Russian naval personnel could rest, it said.

The land for the base will be supplied free by Sudan and Moscow will be allowed to bring in any weapons, ammunition and other equipment it needs through Sudan's airports and ports to support the new facility.

Russia has a similar facility at the port of Tartus in Syria, a country where it also operates an air base.

Moscow is keen to increase its influence in Africa, a continent with 54 UN member states, sprawling mineral wealth, and potentially lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons.

It is jockeying with other nations who are taking an increased interested in the continent.

Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea, is home to Chinese, US and French naval bases, while other navies often use its port.

Tass predicts the new facility will make it easier for the Russian Navy to operate in the Indian Ocean by being able to fly in replacement crews for its long-range ships.

It has also forecast that Russia will fortify its new African outpost with advanced surface-to-air missile systems, allowing it to create a no-fly zone for miles around.

"Our base in Sudan will be another argument for others to hear us and take heed," said an opinion piece in Tass about the new facility