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Sudan puts Russia naval base deal under review

A top military officer denied the review was connected to increased ties with the United States.
This picture taken on March 1, 2021, shows a view of the Russian Navy frigate RFS Admiral Grigorovich (494), anchored in Port Sudan.

Sudan’s interim government is having second thoughts about a deal that would allow Russia to establish a naval base on the Red Sea.

The deal is now under review to ensure it “serve[s] Sudan’s interests,” Sudanese officials informed a Russian delegation to Khartoum last week, said armed forces Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Othman al-Hussein in an interview with Sudan’s Blue Nile TV last night.

The deal, released by Moscow late last year, would allow Russia’s navy to maintain a 25-year lease at Port Sudan, housing up to four ships and 300 soldiers, in exchange for weapons and military equipment for Khartoum.

Russia claims the planned base would be for basic resupply and repairs, but the agreement also allows Russia to move “any weapons, ammunition and equipment” necessary through the port.

Sudan’s ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir initially discussed the agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017.

"At the moment, we are negotiating a possible review of this agreement to ensure that our interests and our profits are taken into account," Hussein said. "Some of the document’s provisions entail certain harm for Sudan."

“This deal was signed under the former National Salvation Government,” he said, noting it was not approved by the Sudanese legislature “as required by the procedures for international treaties.”

Hussein did not rule out fulfillment of the agreement, saying it may yet be deemed valid if in line with the current Sudanese government’s interests.

“If the agreement achieves gains for us and meets Russia’s interests, there’s no problem,” he said.

"We seek advantages for ourselves in implementing this deal.”

Hussein also said recent US sanctions relief has opened Sudan to possible military cooperation with the United States, but he denied any connection to the review of the Port Sudan agreement.

US officials have eyed the Russian agreement warily. In April, the head of all US forces in Africa, Gen. Stephen Townsend, named the planned Russian base among his main strategic concerns on the continent, along with Russia’s foothold in Libya and China’s base in Djibouti.

Sudanese military officials are seeking closer ties with Washington, though some avenues remain blocked under US regulations.

Townsend has touted a policy of offering US counterterrorism support and training to governments in Africa to draw them closer into Washington’s orbit amid strategic competition with Russia and China.