Russia and China have their claws in Africa, outflanking the West on economic and military cooperation.

Reports of violence breaking out in Africa rarely raise eyebrows in the West these days. Perhaps we feel it has little to do with us, whatever the West’s historical responsibilities for the continent’s problems. But as the recent events in Sudan demonstrate, this is no longer the case. The turmoil unfolding there is of far more importance to us than we might think.

While the fighting in Sudan is, on the face of it, little more than a power struggle between the two rival factions that control the country, there is also an important international and geopolitical dimension to the conflict. At its heart is the great powers’ competition for influence over the continent — what has been called the “new scramble for Africa”.

Given its vast natural resources, including gold, its agricultural wealth and its geopolitically strategic location, Sudan has long attracted regional and international power plays. In recent years, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel have all been cultivating economic and political ties with the country’s leadership — and its two warlords in particular.

One country, however, stands out for its “special relationship” with Sudan: Russia. Putin made sure to cultivate an alliance with the country’s former leader, Omar al-Bashir, deploying the infamousWagner Group in 2017 to provide him with political and military support. More importantly, that same year, al-Bashir signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia which included allowing the Russians to establish a military base along the Red Sea, ensuring a permanent presence for the Russian Navy in a crucial region and easy access to the Indian Ocean.

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