Russia’s Lavrov visits Sudan on diplomatic push in Africa’s Sahel

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

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

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

At the same time as receiving Lavrov, Sudanese authorities were this week hosting envoys from the US, Britain and France, who are supporting talks to form a new democratic civilian government in Sudan.

Western countries are concerned about Russia’s expanding influence in Africa’s Sahel and its border regions. Sudan’s ruling military council has previously considered allowing Russia to open a naval base on the Red Sea coast, a strategic region where Gulf countries and Turkey also vie for influence.

Reuters could not immediately establish if the base was on Lavrov’s agenda during the visit.

Western diplomats and official sources have said that Russia’s Wagner Group private military contractor has worked in Sudan to expand gold mining, among other activities.

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

In Khartoum, Lavrov was due to meet Foreign Minister designate, Ali al-Sadeq, as well as other officials, SUNA said.

Sudan courted Russian support in the final years before former President Omar al-Bashir was toppled in a 2019 uprising. Before the coup 15 months ago, civilian Sudanese parties that shared power with the army after Bashir’s overthrow formed closer ties with the West.

The deputy leader of Sudan’s ruling council and head of its powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, visited Russia the day before the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine and expressed openness to hosting a Russian base.

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