The Russian Foreign Minister has previously visited Mali, Mauritania and South Africa with the aim of expanding Moscow's influence on the continent

Lavrov travels to Sudan to strengthen Russia's presence in Africa

AFP PHOTO / Russian Foreign Ministry - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the head of the Sudanese army, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan

Last January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov embarked on a trip to Africa that took him to countries such as South Africa, Esuatini, Angola, Eritrea, Mauritania and Mali. The head of Russian diplomacy is currently in Sudan with the aim of "strengthening bilateral economic ties, especially in infrastructure", according to the state news agency SUNA

In addition to boosting economic relations, as noted by Sudanese media, Lavrov's presence in Sudan, as well as his African tour, seeks to expand Russian influence on the continent through various sectors, such as the military. In fact, during his stay in Khartoum, Moscow's interest in establishing a naval base in the country with access to the Red Sea was once again highlighted. Such a military facility was approved under dictator Omar Al Bashir, but after his overthrow, the new government suspended the project in 2021 - allegedly under pressure from the United States - thwarting Russia's plans.


During the press conference following his meeting with Sudanese leader General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, Lavrov referred to the naval base agreement, saying that the treaty is "in the process of ratification". Lavrov also confirmed Al Burhan's participation in the Russia-Africa summit to be held at the end of July in St. Petersburg, according to the Russian news agency Sputnik.


Al Burhan became Sudan's president after leading a coup in October 2021 against the transitional government headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The uprising significantly worsened the situation in the country, plunging it into severe instability. In the aftermath of the military coup, several of Sudan's international partners, such as the United States and the European Union, suspended millions of dollars in aid to the country. In addition to this critical situation, there is a humanitarian crisis caused by drought and rising prices, as well as new episodes of ethnic and tribal violence in several parts of the country.

The international community is trying to alleviate the Sudanese crisis. Indeed, Lavrov's trip to the country comes on the heels of visits by Western delegations aimed at forming a new democratic government in Khartoum.

Russia takes advantage of Western vacuum to establish a foothold in Africa

Russia has long sought to strengthen ties with African countries with the aim of establishing itself on the continent. With the onset of the invasion of Ukraine and tensions with the West, Moscow has made Africa a priority target in order to gain influence at the expense of Western nations.

To this end, the Kremlin has reached trade and military agreements with a number of African states. In this sense, it is worth highlighting Russia's great interest in the Sahel, where, through the Wagner group and by nurturing a strong anti-European sentiment, it is entering countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso. However, these are not the only countries on the continent where this organisation linked to Moscow is present. As Soraya Aybar Laafou, political scientist, journalist and director of Africa Mundi, points out to Atalayar, Russian mercenaries are or have been actively and militarily present in Mozambique, Central African Republic, Libya, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Sudan, the country where Lavrov is currently based. 

Earlier, the minister visited Mali, where he pledged to help Sahel countries fight the jihadism that threatens the region. This is supposedly Wagner's main objective. However, Russian mercenaries have also been involved in massacres against civilians in various parts of the country.


Moreover, as Laafou argues, "Wagner's presence could be a powder keg of instability". The political scientist stresses that the arrival of this group "does not promise improvements" at the regional level, as it "could generate internal tensions". "Recently, the leader of the Islamist and Muslim Support Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate in the region, announced that one of the main objectives of his operation was to expel Russian mercenaries. Their presence has put control over the territories in jeopardy," he explains. 

In addition to promising help in the fight against terrorism, Lavrov took advantage of his trip to Bamako to attack the West's "neo-colonialism". Moscow has been promoting anti-French sentiments in the country for months through social media and campaigns, as its main objective is to "displace and fill the vacant space left by France" in the region, according to Laafou. 


Russia tries to achieve this goal in two ways: militarily - with agreements and Wagner's entry - and politically or diplomatically, through Lavrov's visits to the continent, for example.  Also, within this Russian strategy, accusations and criticism of the West play a key role. As he did in Mali, in South Africa Lavrov also condemned the actions of Western countries against Africa.

For her part, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor defended the military manoeuvres to be carried out by the two countries together with China, despite international criticism. On this point, Laafou recalled that a large number of African countries have not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine because "they maintain close ties with the Kremlin"


Mauritania, another of the countries recently visited by the Russian minister, expects Moscow to supply it with Russian hydrocarbons, food and fertilisers. "We are ready to meet the demand of Mauritania and other African countries," Lavrov told a press conference after meeting with his Mauritanian counterpart, Mohamed Salem uld Merzoug Nouakchot, according to EFE.

Russia's plans in Africa have benefited, in part, from the war in Ukraine. "On the one hand, while the world looks to the eastern border with the advance of Russian troops in Ukraine, the Kremlin has a 'free hand' to monopolise the spaces of influence on the southern flank, also vital for the geopolitics of the Mediterranean and migratory routes from the Sahel to Europe," Laafou stresses. On the other hand, however, in Libya, for example, Russia has had to reduce the number of mercenaries as they were needed in the offensive against Ukraine.