Since the eruption of the civil war in Sudan, speculation has been ripe over the exact extent of Russia’s military involvement in the country.
The longer the conflict continues, the more questions are being asked. The answers could prove significant over the country's balance of power and the wider regional and global geopolitical implications.
Russia first became associated with the war in its early days. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the country’s paramilitary Wagner Group, positioned himself as a mediator between the sides. He claimed to have good relations with both the regular army and the rival militia, Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Prigozhin even pledged to help bring peace to Khartoum, his words coming at a time when CNN reported that Wagner was arming the RSF, not least with surface-to-air missiles from neighbouring Libya.
But the war has outlasted Wagner’s founding father, who died in an August plane crash in Russia. Just days beforehand, he had met with RSF envoys in Sudan.
Roots of Russian influence
Russian influence in Africa — be it official or unofficial — is not new. It has also been long-present in Sudan — and at the highest level.
In 2017, when Omar al-Bashir was president of the country, he visited Russia. He asked its leader, Vladimir Putin, for protection from what he claimed was American hostility toward his government.
Al-Bashir proposed that Russia could use Sudan as a gateway to Africa and the Red Sea. An agreement was reached to establish a naval base for Russia on Sudan’s coast.
Moscow’s backing for al-Bashir steadily increased, up to his downfall in 2019. In January of that year, just a few weeks before the regime ended, Russia’s Foreign Ministry openly acknowledged the presence of Wagner in Sudan and its support for the government.
A spokesman said: “Russian private security companies, unrelated to the Russian state apparatus, are indeed operating in Sudan,” adding that their tasks were limited to “training military personnel and law enforcement agencies in the Republic of Sudan.”