CAIRO (AP) — A top Sudanese military official said the government will review an agreement with Russia to establish a navy base in the African country.
The remarks about the deal, which dates back to the government of now-deposed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and has not been ratified by the Sudanese parliament, indicate that Khartoum is seeking some changes to the agreement.
Sudan’s Chief of General Staff, Gen. Mohammed Othman al-Hussein told Blue Nile television station late on Tuesday that negotiations are underway with Russian officials “to achieve Sudan’s interests.”
News about the deal surfaced last December on the official portal of the Russian government. The deal allows Russia to set up a naval base with up to 300 Russian troops, 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.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Wednesday that Russian and Sudanese officials have been discussing the issue in diplomatic channels.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov noted in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Russia would like to clarify the Sudanese demands.
“We need to understand specifics,” he said. “We aren’t forcing ourselves on anyone. If there is a desire to fix something, please tell us what you want.”
But Viktor Bondarev, the former Russian air force chief who heads a defense committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, argued that “there are no objective reasons” for a revision of the agreement on the base.
“For the Sudanese side, a permanent Russian naval presence with powerful weapons will guarantee peaceful life in the long-term perspective,” Bondarev said in a statement, adding that the deal will help protect Sudan from both a possible “foreign intervention” and “domestic rifts and upheavals that Sudan has grown tired of over the past decades.”
For Russia, Bondarev argued, the base in Sudan is important to ensure the Russian navy’s presence in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and spare its ships the need of long voyages to reach the area.
Amid tensions with the U.S. and its allies, Moscow has for years sought to reestablish a regular naval presence in various parts of the world that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War times. The Russian navy already has a major presence in the Mediterranean Sea, with a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, currently the only such facility that Russia has outside the former Soviet Union.
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April 2019. The East African nation is now ruled by a joint military and civilian government that seeks better ties with the United States and the West after nearly three decades of international isolation.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow.
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