Under a new agreement publicised by Moscow this week, Russia is set to establish its first military base in Africa since the end of the Cold War. With the creation of a naval logistics centre in Sudan that can accommodate up to 300 personnel and four naval vessels (including those with nuclear capabilities), this declaration of Russian military expansion into Africa is an important strategic move that will set the stage for increased great power competition on the continent.

Victoria Bosomworth, associate analyst at Globaldata comments: “In recent years, Russia has attempted to strengthen defence relations with many African states through trade, investment projects, and bilateral military cooperation agreements. Notably, according to GlobalData and SIPRI research, Russia has also become one of the largest arms exporters to the continent, with over 23% of Russian exports during the 2015-2019 period supplied to Algeria and Egypt alone.

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“The establishment of a naval base signifies a willingness by the Kremlin to not only deepen military ties with African states and cement political alliances, but also to tactically and assertively delineate Russia’s strategic place as a force among other great powers in the region.”

China has long been the stronger military power within Africa, expanding its military presence with the opening of a large naval support base in Djibouti in 2017. Apart from conducting joint military exercises with many African nations, China has also invested significantly in Sino-African defence partnerships by contributing financially to infrastructure projects in line with its Belt and Road Initiative. China has also assisted with continental peacekeeping efforts and contributed funding to the AU’s African Standby Force.

Bosomworth continues: “While the US has also had a foothold in the region through their own military base in Djibouti, US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy and potential budget cuts to AFRICOM have paved the way for greater Chinese and Russian influence in the region.

“This comes at a time where other countries have also sought to make their military presence felt, such as the development of French, Japanese and incoming Saudi Arabian military bases in Djibouti, as well as the establishment of a Turkish base in Somalia.

“The positioning of Russia’s new naval logistics center in Sudan will open up possibilities for the Russian fleet to strengthen their maritime position in the Indian Ocean, providing another warm-water port facility aside from Tartus that would allow Russian ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to resupply.”