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Russia key if quiet player in southern Yemen

While keeping a low profile on the conflict in Yemen, Russia has been making significant progress establishing connections in the south of the country, where it has historically had a military and political presence.
A southern Yemeni separatist fighter waves his rifle at the site of an anti-government protest in the port city of Aden, Yemen January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman - RC1C77800070

Russian Envoy to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia spoke out Oct. 24 on the need to transport humanitarian assistance to southern Yemen and ensure that all major transportation hubs in Yemen remain open for aid. Nebenzia’s comments were welcomed in southern Yemen, coming just weeks after Russian Ambassador to Yemen Vladimir Dedushkin described southern Yemen as an important region for the resolution of the conflict. His statement was viewed by some South Yemeni separatists as implicit criticism of the UN’s decision not to invite the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to early September’s ill-fated Geneva peace talks.

Russia’s concern about southern Yemen, evident in these official statements and a wide array of Russian-sponsored informal mediation initiatives in the region, can be explained by Moscow’s historic connection to the region and its ambitions on the Red Sea. During the Cold War, the former state of South Yemen was the Soviet Union’s strongest ally in the Arab world and the site of major Soviet military installations in Aden and Socotra. The legacy of Cold War-era cultural exchanges between Russians and South Yemenis, fostered by the presence of Soviet researchers in Socotra and South Yemeni civil servants in Soviet educational institutions, has perpetuated Moscow’s interest in the region.

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