Expert Analysis

Russia’s Red Sea Base In Sudan Is A Recalibration Of Its Intra-Ummah Balancing Act

Russia’s Red Sea Base In Sudan Is A Recalibration Of Its Intra-Ummah Balancing Act

16 NOVEMBER 2020


Russia’s draft deal to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan amounts to a strategic recalibration of its careful “balancing” act between the GCC and Turkey after moving more closely to the latter following the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which in turn shows how important Moscow regards its “Ummah Pivot” as being by seeking to maintain equally excellent relations with all majority-Muslim countries without any of its bilateral relations being misperceived as directed against any third country in this civilizational sphere.

A Deal Three Years In The Making

Some observers were surprised by reports late last week that a Russian government website published details of a draft deal pertaining to Moscow’s plans to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan, but this was actually something that’s been openly discussed for the past three years already. The author wrote about former President Bashir’s public invitation for Russia to do exactly just that during his visit to the Eurasian Great Power in November 2017 in his piece titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan”. The geopolitical situation has considerably changed since then following his overthrow last year, which the author also recently analyzed at length in an article about how “The Sudanese-‘Israeli’ Peace Deal Required Lots Of Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering”, but some of his insight from that time is still relevant.

Russia’s Silk Road & “Democratic Security” Interests

For instance, Russia indeed hopes to gain influence along China’s prospective Sahelian-Saharan Silk Road that he first identified in early 2017 and which is expected to terminate precisely in Port Sudan, which is where Moscow plans to open up its naval base. There are still domestic military dimensions to this draft deal which could be taken advantage of by Sudan, though not necessarily in terms of preventing the country’s further Balkanization considering the recent peace deal between its warring sides. More specifically, they likely relate to the “Democratic Security” strategies that the author summarized in his October 2019 piece written during the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit about how “Africa Needs Russia More Than Ever, And This Week’s Sochi Summit Proves It”, in which some hyperlinks are now broken but can still be accessed via other sites.

The “Ummah Pivot”

The most pertinent point made in his prior topical analysis, however, relates to Russia’s “balancing” act. The hyperlinked piece from the preceding sentence introduced the author’s concept of the “Ummah Pivot”, which he describes as the recent prioritization of Russia’s relations with majority-Muslim countries stimulated by the West’s anti-Russian sanctions of the past six and a half years. Many observers predicted Russia to “pivot eastward” in the face of that economic warfare campaign, but in reality, the country ended up pivoting southward towards the international Muslim community (“Ummah”) in order to optimize its continental “balancing” strategy by incorporating a third element (the Ummah) into this supposedly binary choice between East (China) and West (EU).

The Unofficial Russian-Turkish Alliance

In the present geostrategic conditions, there’s little doubt after the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War that Russia and Turkey are the new power duo in the “Greater Mideast”, which the author coined “Putogan” in his latest analysis on the topic titled “Analytical Reflections: Learning From The Nagorno-Karabakh Fiasco”. Less than a week prior, he noted that “Russia & Turkey Stand To Lose The Most From A Biden Presidency”, predicting that the simultaneous pressure that might likely be placed upon them in that scenario could result in them being pushed into an unofficial alliance out of pragmatic necessity. That potential outcome would risk giving off the optics that Russia is a partisan player in the cold war between Turkey and the GCC, however, hence the need to preemptively recalibrate that aspect of its “balancing” act within its larger “Ummah Pivot”.

The Unofficial Russian-Emirati Alliance

Post-coup Sudan is practically a GCC protectorate nowadays, and it wouldn’t have been possible for Russia to clinch its draft deal for a Red Sea naval base in Port Sudan without the approval of the North African state’s new Gulf overlords. They seemingly understand the importance of improving military interoperability with Russia through the joint naval drills that they’ll likely carry out in the Red Sea upon this agreement’s conclusion. The UAE in particular is the most important extra-regional player in this strategic waterway as a result of its newly established bases in Eritrea and the de-facto independent Somali and Yemeni regions of Somaliland and South Yemen, as well as its hegemonic influence over Ethiopia after brokering its historic peace deal with Eritrea two years back. Russia has also been seeking to cultivate closer state-to-state military ties with the UAE as well.

The Syrian Convergence

Unofficially allying with the UAE in this trans-regional space could “balance” its unofficial alliance with Turkey elsewhere in the “Greater Mideast”, thus reinforcing the impression that Russia is indeed the neutral partner that it presents itself as being in the Ummah. This in turn preemptively thwarts any misperception about the grand strategic motives behind its “Ummah Pivot”, thus helping it to maintain its careful “balancing” act in this civilizational space. The two halves of its intra-Ummah “balancing” act might ultimately converge in Syria where Turkey and the GCC are intensely competing in this geostrategic state where Russian influence undoubtedly predominates. It would be a diplomatic masterstroke if Moscow was able to leverage its “balancing” act in pursuit of a lasting political solution there, though it’ll still take lots of time and skill to achieve, if ever.


By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Russia, Sudan, Horn Of Africa, Red Sea, UAE, Turkey, Ummah Pivot, Balancing, China, BRI.


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Geopolitical conflicts



  • ETHIOPIA: Ethiopia’s conflict in its powerful Tigray region continued as PM vows further operations. Observers warned the possibility of a civil war. It could destabilize the already turbulent Horn of Africa. There is a great challenge in holding together a country of some 110 million people with multiple ethnic and other grievances.






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Expert Analysis

The Geopolitical Impact Of The ‘Israeli’-Emirati Alliance Will Be Felt In Africa

The Geopolitical Impact Of The ‘Israeli’-Emirati Alliance Will Be Felt In Africa



The misleadingly described “peace” deal between “Israel” and the UAE will enable the self-professed “Jewish State” to use the latter’s military and civilian port infrastructure in the Gulf of Aden, thus challenging recent Turkish inroads in this part of the world and allowing Tel Aviv to project itself as a trans-regional power of significance, especially in East Africa and eventually everywhere else on the continent too.

From Diplomatic “Peace” To Military Partnership

Israel” and the UAE finally formalized their hitherto not-so-secret ties earlier this week after agreeing to a misleadingly described “peace” deal brokered by the US. The author recently explained the regional strategic and soft power dividends that the self-professed “Jewish State” hopes to achieve through this development in his piece about how “The US-Brokered Mideast ‘Peace’ Deals Aren’t What They Seem”, so this present piece will therefore discuss its most likely trans-regional geopolitical dividends. The UAE commands a vast empire of military and civilian ports across the world, but the most important jewels in its crown are found in the Gulf of Aden region, specifically in Eritrea, South Yemen (including the strategic Socotra Islands), and the internationally unrecognized Somali breakaway region of Somaliland. It’s therefore predicted that “Israel” will soon have access to these facilities for the purpose of projecting itself as a trans-regional power of significance.

Containing” Turkey

Although Turkey hasn’t withdrawn its decades-long recognition of “Israel”, President Erdogan has recently presented himself as the most high-profile supporter of the Palestinians. He’s also at odds with the UAE since the Gulf State fears his ideological alliance with its Muslim Brotherhood foes, especially those based in nearby Qatar. For this reason, both “Israel” and the UAE have vested interests in “containing” the spread of Turkish influence, which they can attempt to do in East Africa by combining their military and other potential in and around the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint following their mutual recognition of each other. It’s unclear how this would play out in practice, but there’s no denying the impact that a more visible “Israeli” military presence in the UAE’s relevant ports would have on changing the regional narrative in all respects. If anything, it would at the very least boost “Israeli” prestige, both at home and in the targeted region, especially the African hinterland where the self-professed “Jewish State” has been silently expanding its influence over the past decade.

The African Angle

To explain, “Israel” already has considerable influence in East Africa, especially in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. It naturally follows that it would like to expand its reach to the littoral region along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in order to entrench its influence in this larger space, hence the need for more closely cooperating with the UAE to that end. “Israel” and Eritrea already have relations with one another, but the UAE is the latter’s dominant partner since it uses its territory for waging the War on Yemen. The self-professed “Jewish State” can now “piggyback” on the its official ally’s military gains there to do the same, just like in South Yemen and Somaliland. Taken together, the military dimensions of the “Israeli”-Emirati alliance perfectly complement the diplomatic and economic (agricultural, electrical hydrologicaltelecommunication) influence that it’s already established to solidify its sway. The only “holdouts” are Sudan, which is already under the UAE’s influence after its military coup, tiny Djibouti, and Somalia, the last of which hosts a Turkish base.

Cultivating UN Support On The Continent

“Israel’s” trans-regional strategy with the UAE, using the Gulf of Aden as its springboard for expanding influence into Africa, is therefore twofold. Firstly, it hopes to “contain” Turkish influence in this part of the world, and secondly, it wants to leverage its predicted gains to recruit more diplomatic allies in the UN. That global body’s resolutions are superficial since they lack any enforcement mechanism, but they’re still an impressive soft power tool for shaping perceptions. Since the UAE is becoming more active in the African hinterland, both on its own independent initiative and to counter Turkish influence there, “Israel” hopes to combine their efforts to turn targeted states away from the Turks and towards the “Israeli”-Emirati alliance instead. Incentives such as loans and investments (in the earlier described spheres) could basically buy off corrupt governments there who have little to lose by siding with those two since it’s extremely unlikely that voting in support of “Israel” at the UN will set off a pro-Palestinian Color Revolution anywhere on the continent.

Concluding Thoughts

Many commentators have already extensively discussed the implications of “Israel” and the UAE’s mutual recognition on Mideast geopolitics, but few other than the author have asked what the future holds for Africa in this respect. The UAE is already the predominant power in the interconnected Horn of Africa-Gulf of Aden region, so it naturally follows that its “Israeli” ally will “piggyback” off of gains there to combine them with its existing accomplishments in the East African hinterland. Together, “Israel” and the UAE might pool their efforts in order to seriously challenge Turkish influence on the continent, which has been spreading over the past decade despite most foreign observers being unaware of this fact except when it comes to North Africa. The overarching trend is that foreign powers — which include “Israel”, the UAE, and Turkey, but also the US, France, India, Russia, and China — are increasingly “scrambling” for Africa in order to improve their grand strategic prospects in the emerging Multipolar World Order, and it’s only a matter of time before they clash.


American political analyst

Tags: Israel, UAE, Turkey, Africa, Horn of Africa, Yemen, South Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland, East Africa.