Both countries are rotating their warships in the hope of strengthening their influence in the Sudan region

Russia and the US jostle to gain a foothold on the Red Sea coast

REUTERS / YORUK ISIK - Russian navy cargo ship crossing the Bosphorus strait

The Port of Sudan is witnessing a tug-of-war between the Russians and Americans to gain a foothold on the Red Sea coast. Only a few hours prevented the Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich and the American destroyer Winston Churchill from crossing paths in the port which is currently experiencing a tense situation with the presence of the naval forces of the two superpowers. 

Local sources believe that Washington's intention does not go much further than blocking Russia's strategy, in an attempt to avoid situations such as those that occurred in Syria and Libya, where Moscow managed to impose its control. This is the second time in just over a week that a US warship has reached the Red Sea coast, after the US Maritime Transportation Command's battleship "Carson City", which arrived in port on 24 February. This is yet another sign of the gradual rapprochement that the Biden Administration is making to improve relations with Sudan after several years of stalemate. The US embassy in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, issued a statement saying that "the visit of the military vessel underscores the United States' support for Sudan's democratic transition and strengthening partnership with Sudan". 

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In January, AFRICOM - the US Africa Command - through diplomat Andrew Young, and Director of Intelligence Admiral Hedi Berg, visited Khartoum to make further progress in improving relations between the two countries. However, Sudan and the United States have been on more equal footing since the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir almost two years ago in April 2019. Washington also hopes to establish good trade and economic relations in order to increase its influence both geographically and financially. 

Former President Donald Trump's removal of Sudan from the list of terrorist-supporting countries paved the way just before Biden took office. As a result, restrictions between the two countries were lifted. Now, with military collaboration as an option, the door is open to a new phase of collaboration and the fight against terrorism and extremist groups in the Horn of Africa. From now on, the use of Sudanese facilities by US military forces is also permitted. Also through their embassy in Khartoum, they expressed this desire for close military cooperation and explained that "their military attaché, Jacob Day, is working with the Sudanese military to strengthen bilateral relations". 

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On the Soviet side, the arrival of the Grigorovich ship in the Port of Sudan is an unprecedented action in the modern history of the country led by Vladimir Putin. According to the press office of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the frigate will be refuelled during its stay and its crew will have a rest after participating in the multinational naval exercises involving 45 countries in the Arabian Sea on 15 and 16 February. However, Russia's real intention in Sudan is to establish its first naval base in Africa. In November, the Russian president announced an agreement on the creation of a logistics support centre capable of mooring nuclear-powered surface vessels in Sudan. 

The acceleration of the US move comes a few months after Russia's announcement of the establishment of a logistics hub in the Port of Sudan. The base will have a capacity for 300 soldiers and civilians, and four ships, including nuclear-powered vessels, under the agreement for the next 25 years and renewable for another ten. In return, Sudanese forces will receive Russian weapons and military equipment.