Robert Harneis –TDO-(FRANCE) On October 5th, the United States agreed to lift sanctions against Sudan after 20 years. Such unaccustomed goodwill seems to be making President Omar Hassan al-Bashir nervous. He no doubt remembers that demonstrations of Western goodwill preceded the onslaughts against Serbian Slobodan Milosevic, Libyan Colonel Qaddafi and the Syrian President Bachar al-Assad. Qaddafi was famously even invited to set up his tented camp in the heart of Paris in the gardens of the Elysée Palace by President Sarkozy. Only four years later his country was attacked by France and he himself was murdered, allegedly with the connivance of Western special forces.
The lifting of sanctions has not brought to an end Sudan’s problems with the United States. Sudan is still listed by the United States as a sponsor of terrorism. When John Sullivan, the US Deputy Secretary of State visited Sudan in mid-November he did not meet the Sudanese President. Moreover, Sullivan indicated that Washington would expect the regime to accept far-reaching reforms, including the repealing of apostasy punishment, and improvements in its human rights record.
It comes as no surprise therefore that since the ending of sanctions President al-Bashir has entered into serious negotiations with both Russia and Turkey for the modernization and use of Sudanese ports. No doubt he calculates that a Russian and Turkish naval presence will be calculated to restrain the Western tendency to meddle in his country’s affairs.
Making the first trip by a Turkish president to Sudan on December 26, Erdogan said Turkey had been leased part of Suakin island so it could rebuild the area as a tourist site and a transit point for pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Mecca. According to Reuters Turkey has also reached an agreement to modernize its port facilities for both military and civilian purposes. Suakin was Sudan’s major port when it was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, but fell into disuse over the last century after the construction of Port Sudan, 60 km to the north.
The other agreements signed during Erdogan’s visit included Turkish investment to build Khartoum’s planned new airport and private sector investments in cotton production, electricity generation and building grain silos and meat slaughterhouses.
There has also been a flurry of negotiations between Russia and Sudan. On November 23, the Sudanese president met President Putin in Sochi. Showing little gratitude for the lifting of sanctions, he said "we are primarily opposed to US interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries, in particular US interference in Iraq." He also expressed support for Russia's role in Syria and said that the country is suffering because of US interference.
In Sochi, Bashir also told Russia Today TV channel that he would oppose any Arab war against Iran, thus distancing himself from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In an interview with the Russian government news website Sputnik he went further, saying that Washington was now planning to split the rest of Sudan into five countries. Bashir also told Sputnik that he had discussed the establishment of military bases on the Red Sea coast with President Putin and his defense minister. He further revealed that he was interested in purchasing Russia's S-300 air defense system.
Immediately prior to the meeting, on November 20, Russia delivered a first batch of SU 35 fighter aircraft. It is not known how many aircraft were involved.
Since then the Russian Military Chief of staff has visited Sudan to discuss defense equipment cooperation. Whilst nothing definite has been concluded it is believed that Russia may agree to modernize and use Port Sudan. On December 22 Russia also signed an agreement to help Sudan develop a nuclear power plant.
President al Bashir has been in power in Sudan for 28 years and faces re-election in 2020. It is understood that the United States has recently indicated that it does not support his candidacy.
The Sudanese President is the subject of a conviction by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court's decision is opposed by the African Union, the League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and the governments of Russia and China.