Oil-Strapped Sudan Courting Old Ally Russia

MOSCOW, December 9 (RIA Novosti) – Russia would back Sudan on an important territorial dispute and is likely to invest in the country’s flagging economy, a senior Sudanese official said.

Moscow prefers that Sudan and South Sudan sort out the dispute over the oil-rich province of Abyei without involving the UN Security Council, presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie said in Khartoum on Sunday, Sudan Tribune reported.

Khartoum and Juba have been in a tug-of-war over Abyei since South Sudan became independent last year, with dragged-out negotiations unable to prevent a military conflict from smoldering.

Sudan prefers to find a solution without the Security Council’s involvement, Nafie said. He has earlier accused the United States of siding with South Sudan on Abyei.

Both countries sent delegations to Moscow last week, though the Russian Foreign Ministry avoided taking sides in a carefully worded statement published after the separate talks, only calling for political dialogue.

South Sudan is interested in purchasing Russian military equipment and training its army personnel in Russia, the head of its delegation, presidential aide Pagan Amum, said in Moscow on Friday in what appeared to be a veiled threat to its northern neighbors.

But economic relations, not Abyei, dominated the agenda during the meetings of the Sudanese delegation with Russian Cabinet members on Friday, Nafie said in Moscow.

Sudan – which lost 75 percent of its known oil reserves after South Sudan won independence – wants Russian investment, including in the agricultural sector, budding gold industry and new oil projects, Nafie said.

No agreements were signed on Friday, but Russian VTB bank plans to open a branch in Khartoum, he said at a press conference after the talks.

Russia will be sending delegations to Sudan to study its investment opportunities, and two investment forums are in the works, Investment Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said at the conference.

The Revival of a Beautiful Friendship

Bilateral trade between Russia and Sudan stands at a dismal $200 million a year, but has potential to improve, a Russian entrepreneur told RIA Novosti.

However, US economic sanctions against Sudan’s authoritarian regime have put a damper on the effort to lure Russian business into the country, the entrepreneur said on condition of anonymity. Sudan has been under US sanctions for alleged support of Islamic terrorism since 1997.

The country is actively luring in Asian investment, including from Chinese, Indian and Malaysian companies, Nafie said. China-Sudan trade stood at $8.6 billion in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available.

Russia and Sudan have been allies since Soviet times, but economic collaboration dwindled to nothing after perestroika. However, Moscow remained Khartoum’s main supplier of military equipment.

“Russia has always adopted a national-liberator attitude toward Sudan, unlike colonizer countries such as Britain and France, which were only looking for our resources,” Nafie said.

Sudanese officials unsuccessfully sought to enlist Russia’s help in the UN Security Council after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2008. Bashir was accused of crimes against humanity over the infamous conflict in Darfur, a province in Sudan’s west where 300,000 people, according to UN estimates, died in the alleged genocide of the local non-Arab population by Sudanese Arabs.

Nafie did not mention Russia’s diplomatic support for Bashir or possible purchases of Russian military equipment by Sudan, though the top brass of Sudan’s state-run Military Industry Corporation were part of the delegation.


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