Russian Prime Minister Lavrov visits Sudan for diplomatic efforts in the African Sahel | News

Lavrov arrived in Khartoum seeking to strengthen economic ties between the two countries, especially in infrastructure.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was due to meet with officials in Sudan on Thursday, part of an African tour aimed at expanding influence at a time when Western countries have sought to isolate Moscow with sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

Lavrov arrived in Khartoum late on Wednesday, seeking to strengthen economic ties between the two countries, especially in infrastructure, state news agency SUNA reported. Lavrov’s tour included Iraq, Mauritania and Mali, and last week he also visited the Republic of South Africa.

Sudan was cut off from billions of dollars in international funding after military leaders ousted a Western-backed transitional government in 2021.

At the same time that they received Lavrov, Sudanese authorities this week hosted envoys from the United States, the United Kingdom and France, who are supporting negotiations to form a new democratic civilian government in Sudan.

Sudan’s ruling military council previously considered allowing Russia to open a naval base on the Red Sea coast, a strategic region where the Gulf states and Turkey are also vying for influence.

Al Jazeera could not immediately determine whether the base was on Lavrov’s agenda during the visit.

Western countries are concerned about the expansion of Russia’s influence in the African Sahel and its border regions.

Reporting from Khartoum, Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan said the planned visit was part of growing ties between Sudan and Russia in recent years.

“With Russia expressing interest and signing a memorandum of understanding with the previous transitional government of Sudan to build a naval base along the east coast and wanting to invest,” she said.

Morgan noted that many analysts and watchdog groups have criticized the move, saying Russia is interested in advancing its own interests rather than expanding Sudan’s economic power.

Wagner group

Western diplomats and official sources said Russian private military contractor Wagner Group was working in Sudan to expand gold mining, among other activities.

Sudan’s foreign ministry previously denied the presence of Wagner, which is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Khartoum, Lavrov was supposed to meet with the appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali al-Sadeq, as well as other officials, SUNA announced.

Speaking from Moscow, Dmitry Trenin, a member of Russia’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council, said Russia’s Africa tour reflected its interest in building stronger military, security and economic ties in the region.

“The Soviet Union had a very wide range of contacts in Africa. For the first time since the end of the SU, it was noted in Moscow that Africa had been neglected for too long and that it deserved much more attention than it was getting.

“Russia is trying to promote security assistance … and economic and educational projects,” he said.

“Main reason [for Russia’s interest in Africa] is an earthquake that destroyed Russia’s relations with Europe and the wider West. Along with the hybrid war between the West and Russia, the countries of the Middle East, Africa and Asia are considered the most important and only Russian partners of Russia,” said Trenin.

Sudan received Russian support in recent years before former president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a 2019 uprising.

Before the coup 15 months ago, the civilian Sudanese parties that shared power with the military after the ouster of al-Bashir forged closer ties with the West.

The deputy head of the Sudanese Governing Council and head of its powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, visited Russia a day before the February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine and expressed his willingness to host a Russian base.

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