The Russians are trying to expand their influence in Africa. To this end, they are signing military agreements with some of the continent’s more authoritarian regimes.
The German daily newspaper Bild citing a leaked secret German Foreign Ministry report wrote that the Russians are building military bases in six African countries. The report says that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made “Africa a top priority.” The bases are part of the Russians’ new African ambitions.
Bild cited the report which states that “since 2015, Russia has concluded military cooperation agreements with 21 countries in Africa.” It added that there were only four prior military cooperation treaties across the continent.
The report said that by courting some of the continent’s most dictatorial regimes, the Kremlin was “contractually assured” it would “be allowed to build military bases in six countries.” These countries are the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan according to the Foreign Ministry’s leaked document.
Putin is competing with not only the West but also with China in spreading Russian influence on the huge continent (Africa is three times the size of the United States).
Sudan particularly interests Putin and Russia as it sits on the strategic Red Sea waterway.
Back in December, the head of Sudan’s parliamentary defense committee MG Al-Hadi Adam had said regarding a Russian request to construct a port in Sudan, “The date of the requested port call is being discussed. It will be approved if the two countries make an agreement. This deal will pave the way for more agreements and greater cooperation… possibly a Russian base on the Red Sea.”
Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had, as far back as 2017, sought Russian aid in combatting “U.S. aggression” in the country. Al-Bashir was deposed in a coup d’état. He was convicted of corruption charges late last year. In the past, Sudan had backed Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. It has been accused of harboring and providing sanctuary, logistical, and monetary assistance to several Islamic terrorist groups. Carlos the Jackal, Osama bin Laden, Abu Nidal, and others who have been labeled “terrorist leaders” by the United States have reportedly been protected in Sudan. In 1993, the U.S. designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Additionally, the Russians have long been trying to establish a logistical base in Eritrea. Eritrea’s two ports, in Massawa and Assab, occupy strategic points along the Red Sea. Although the stated purpose of an agreement signed between Russia and Eritrea was to invigorate trade and business deals between the two countries, it will also allow the Russians, in both Eritrea and Sudan, to collect intelligence and possibly encroach on shipping going through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and the Arabian Seas. This would obviously include U.S. warships sailing to, or from, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
Russia’s military is officially training soldiers from the Central African Republic. Currently, there are 180 Russian “official” army instructors based in the Central African Republic. There are also purportedly between 250 and 1,000 Russian “civilian” contractors from the Wagner Group in the country as well. The Wagner Group is also in Libya in support of General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
German Foreign Ministry experts have termed the Wagner Group a Russian “hybrid instrument [that exerts] political, economic, and military influence.”
The capabilities of Russia’s armed forces and mercenaries (Wagner Group) are “of great interest for autocratic regimes in possible use against their own people,” the German report added. Moscow’s mercenaries can be easily deployed to aid in stabilizing dictatorial African regimes.
Russians will have to compete with the French who also have influence and are deployed in the Central African Republic and the neighboring countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad — all of them former French colonies. The French presence is part of the ongoing war against Islamic jihadists in the Sahel region.
The Russians continue to be a major arms supplier in the African continent. The Russians control 37.6 percent of Africa’s arms market; following far behind is the United States with 16 percent, France with 14 percent, and China with 9 percent. Algeria reportedly remains the biggest customer of Russian weapons in Africa, followed by Egypt, Sudan, and Angola.
The Russians signed an agreement with Egypt in 2017 to use Egyptian airbases. Putin has referred to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as a “trusted and close partner.” On Putin’s December 2017 visit to Cairo, the two countries signed agreements in which Russia would build Egypt’s first nuclear reactor, and supply it with nuclear fuel.
Putin has put Russia back on the path of seeking superpower status in Africa and across the globe.