Military chief says Sudan reviewing naval base deal with Russia
General Mohammed Othman al-Hussein says negotiations are under way with Russian officials ‘to serve Sudan’s interests’.
Sudan’s military chief has said the country is reviewing an agreement to host a Russian naval base on its Red Sea coast, which was reached under former President Omar al-Bashir who was overthrown two years ago after nearly 30 years in power.
“This deal was signed under the former National Salvation Government,” armed forces Chief of Staff General Mohamed Othman al-Hussein said in an interview broadcast late on Tuesday.
He told Sudan’s Blue Nile TV “talks to review the deal to serve Sudan’s interests” had been held with a visiting Russian delegation last week.
News about the deal surfaced late last year on the official portal of the Russian government. The deal allows Russia to set up a naval base with up to 300 Russian soldiers, and also to simultaneously keep up to four navy ships, including nuclear-powered ones, in Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
In exchange, Russia is to provide Sudan with weapons and military equipment. The agreement is to last for 25 years, with automatic extensions for 10-year periods if neither side objects to it.
“We are negotiating a possible review to this deal, to ensure that our interests and our profits are taken into account,” al-Hussein said.
For decades, Sudan was dependent militarily on Russia because of harsh sanctions imposed by the United States against al-Bashir’s government.
But Sudan has been improving its ties with the US since al-Bashir was removed by the military in April 2019 following widespread demonstrations against his rule.
The country is now run by a technocratic government and council of civilian and military figures due to cede power by the end of 2023.
Last year, the US appointed its first ambassador in Khartoum in decades and removed Sudan from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism”. As part of the thaw, Sudan has agreed to normalise diplomatic relations with US ally Israel.
Russian President Vladimir Putin published a decree in November saying he had approved a Russian government proposal to set up a naval logistics hub in Sudan.
Al-Hussein noted that the deal for a Russian base had not been presented to a yet-to-be-formed legislative council that will act as a parliament during the political transition in Sudan.
The Kremlin said it had seen al-Hussein’s comments, and that Moscow was in regular contact with Sudan and hoped it could resolve the situation.
Senior Russian foreign ministry official Mikhail Bogdanov suggested additional talks to clarify the situation, and said Russia would be happy to clarify anything on its side, the Interfax news agency reported.