In an international scenario that is increasingly tense and polarised by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Moscow does not cease in its efforts to gain influence and ally itself with the powers that, until now, have not positioned themselves against it. In this regard, Sudan has signalled a clear change of course in its future foreign relations: Khartoum is moving towards closer ties with the Kremlin.
Just a few days ago, the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and Norway to Sudan, as well as the US chargé d'affaires in the country, signed a statement accusing Russia of involvement in the illegal trafficking of Sudanese gold. One of the biggest sources of foreign exchange for Khartoum, which lost three quarters of its oil revenues, and almost 80 per cent of its foreign exchange resources after the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
"In Sudan, the Wagner Group, a private military company with close ties to Putin, spreads disinformation on social media and engages in illegal activities linked to gold mining," the Europa Press news agency quoted part of the statement as saying. In addition, the signatory powers warned that these activities "undermine good governance and respect for the rule of law for which the Sudanese people have been fighting since the revolution [of 2019]".
"While Putin's war may be 5,000 kilometres away, Russia is not just attacking Ukraine. Its forces undermine stability around the world," the statement added. "It is also attacking the principles of the UN Charter, the norms by which societies can coexist in peace, and this should be of concern to all countries - particularly in Africa.
The Wagner Group operates in the territory through the front companies "M-Invest" and "Meroe Gold", and according to several Sudanese media, the mercenary group has reportedly trained Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Darfur region - under allegations of war crimes - and military personnel of the Sudanese army. In addition, CNN investigations have brought to light the plans drawn up by M-Invest to discredit and violently suppress the 2019 uprisings, which supported the then president, Omar al-Bashir.
In response to the communiqué, the Khatoum government was quick to respond with a direct attack on the ambassadors of the three Western countries, whom it accused of forming a "Western troika".
"The Sudanese government categorically denies" the claims of the three diplomats "about the presence of the Russian security company Wagner in Sudan carrying out training, mining and other acts against sovereignty", the Khartoum Ministry of Foreign Affairs published in a statement, as reported by Swissinfo. It described the action by Washington, Oslo and London as "blatant interference in Sudan's internal affairs and in contradiction to established diplomatic norms and practices", and criticised their attempt to "deliberately and arbitrarily involve Sudan in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine".
Mohamed Al-Nayer, an economic analyst, explained to the daily Al-Arab that these accusations by the "Western troika" are based on political issues, stemming from the uncertainty of Western powers about Sudan's foreign relations in its next phase. After a brief period of openness to the Western world in which they have not obtained effective support to strengthen its economy. This positioning has materialised with accusations from the Khartoum government that the aim of the US, UK and Norway is to pressure the country to end its rapprochement with Moscow as part of their attempt to isolate it internationally.
According to a report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa in September last year, since 2013 Sudan had lost more than 265 tonnes of gold due to seizures of smuggled gold by Moscow. The Sudanese Ministry of Mines was quick to deny this.
However, in the same vein, more recent reports in the British newspaper The Telegraph have claimed that Russia may have bought smuggled Sudanese gold to prepare for Western sanctions. Just days before invading Ukraine. Indeed, the eight-day trip to Moscow by Sudan's Sovereign Council (TMC) vice-president and general, Mohamed Hamdam Dagalo - also known as Hemedti - coinciding with the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, has only fuelled these suspicions.
"Russia probably got gold from various sources. Not only from Sudan," said Salah Al-Doma, dean of political science at Khartoum's Omdurman Islamic University. "But, yes, Sudan is one of the countries from which Russian companies managed to benefit from secret deals with the Rapid Support Forces and other entities such as the former ruling National Congress Party. Russia, like many countries, benefited from the smuggling of Sudanese gold."
"I have nothing to say other than that this is fake news and a story created by journalists from The Telegraph," was the only terse response from Khartoum, via a document issued by Sudan's acting ambassador to Russia, Mohamed Hussein Zaroug.
Since October last year, Sudan has been run by the armed forces, who staged a coup to oust the alliance of civil organisations and political parties with which they shared the country's government. This alliance was led by the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, and members of his cabinet, and came to power in August 2019 to lead the country's democratic transition until elections are held in 2023. However, this transition has been called into question following the forced dissolution of the government by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is currently in negotiations with Russia for the installation of a naval base on Sudan's Red Sea coast.