In November, the Russian government released a deal document stating that Russia would build a naval base in Port Sudan along the Red Sea. With a workforce capacity of 300, both military & civilian, It will mark the return of Russian presence in African coasts first time after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It will be a logistics and repair center with a holding capacity of four vessels at a time.
The deal will enable Russia to transport military equipment required for the base using Sudan’s ports. The document states that the facility “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries”. It should be noted that talks of this deal initiated in 2017 when former president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir visited Russia and asked Putin for “protection” from the United States.
Although it was due to tensions between Sudan and the United States over alleged terrorism hosted by Sudan at that time, the idea of a naval base pleased Russia. Russia is trying to gain back its geopolitical importance in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. It prevented the collapse of Bashar Al Assad’s regime, provided anti-aircraft missiles, and even sent Russian troops on the ground to help the Syrian military fight any threats.
It averted the fate of Assad’s regime which could’ve been similar or worse than that of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s and hence gained a place on the table in the Middle East talks. Moreover, Russia oversees everything using modern radar & surveillance systems even on Israeli bases through its military holdings in Syria.
According to Angela Stent, author of Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest, a senior Israeli official agreed that Russia became a much better broker than the United States in the Middle East talks, initiating dialogue with every state regardless of the state’s beliefs. It also negotiates with different groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
Trump’s imprudent diplomacy of a maximum pressure campaign on Iran gave Russia more opportunities to outsmart the United States not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, Russia’s successful annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, owing to its historical claims over the region, gave Russia leverage of strategic importance as well as a significant boost to Putin’s fame which has helped him to retain power since then.
In just a month, the Russian military had acquired control of the entire Peninsula. Since then, around 250,000 military and civilian personnel have moved from Russia to Crimea. Russia has also put $10 billion in subsidies and infrastructure of highways to connect Russia with Crimea in addition to submarines, fighter aircraft, and surface combatants to make its stand over the region stronger — Russia prepared all this in the face of the sanctions put by Washington and the European Union.
The strategic importance of Russia’s naval base in the main port is quite important; with a key oil refinery, transporting oil from South Sudan to dock across the globe, it acts as one of the most efficient ports in Africa. It might also strengthen the Russian presence in the Indian Ocean, as “Russia’s nuclear-powered cruisers can use the center as a resting place for its crew members, The sailors of the Northern and Baltic fleets will not have to make exhausting transitions in order to spend several months in the Indian Ocean”.
Kremlin’s policies suggest Russia’s desire to move more efficiently in the Indian Ocean, symbolizing the wish to return to one of the most strategically important waters as Russia’s maritime dominion. The Indian Ocean serves major ground of economic importance for all global and regional superpowers like America, China, and India.
Surprisingly, there are no collaborative mechanisms between these major countries over piracy, trafficking, terrorism as well as security of deepwater cables to prevent cyberattacks. Russia had a strong naval influence in the Indian Ocean before the Soviet Union’s collapse and it can regain that with multilateral talks, to become a sort of player that the U.S. has never been able to.
Despite all of this, there are still some very important ingredients of a superpower that Russia lacks in comparison to China. Russia may have the greatest military capacity next to the United States, but that it’s still no enough to match with China. However, Russia’s political and diplomatic experience must not be underestimated, since it is more than capable of gaining the upper hand.
Joe Biden’s presidency raises some hopes for the United States. but 73 million votes cast for Trump with a bleak gap of 100000 votes, and with 40% of Americans still believing Trump when he says that he won, shows a divided U.S. which will be Biden’s first & foremost priority rather than correcting Trump’s foreign policy disasters which have benefited Kremlin’s outreach.
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