How and Why Sudan Represents the Second Front in the Russo-Ukrainian War

Sudan is an African country with a rich history and multiethnic society. However, the government is intertwined with wars, perpetual conflicts, and even genocides.

The current civil war in Sudan is becoming a dilemma, with various parties and factions looking to gain control. The country is also becoming intertwined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Russia’s paramilitary force, the Wagner Group, in conflict with Ukraine’s special operations forces.

Sudan not only represents continuous horrors and instability in Africa but is now slowly becoming a front for Ukraine and Russia.

Ongoing Civil War in Sudan

Gaining independence in 1956, Sudan is intertwined with numerous military coups and genocidal persecutions of Christians that led to the wider state’s partition in 2011. Subsequently, Sudan was also engaged in a brutal war in the Darfur region in which junta leader Omar Al-Bashir was charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court.

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group made up of Janjaweed militias known for their brutality against non-Muslims and other non-Arab ethnic groups, was formed in 2013 by Bashir and has been gaining power in Sudan ever since.

The ruling military junta, headed by Bashir’s successor, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leads a turbulent country. Rapid currency devaluation, lack of grain, and homelessness would lead to nationwide protests.

Gaining influence rapidly, the government and Arab League attempted to negotiate a settlement before Khartoum would explode into a powder keg. Disputes would include: Arguments over whether the RSF would be incorporated into the Sudanese Armed Forces, slights at ethnic background, and checkpoints of where the military and RSF should be stationed.

The ongoing civil war would be initiated by the RSF when they attacked multiple bases across Sudan on April 15th, 2023. A focal point in the war is the crucial mining areas, where the RSF and the Wagner Group look to continue holding onto valuable natural resources.

Russia’s Influence Through Wagner in Sudan

Under the then leadership of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group has held a presence in Sudan since 2017. The mercenary organization was given contracts from the then Omar al-Bashir junta.

The Kremlin and Prigozhin quietly negotiated security contracts for Bashir, including access to Sudan’s lucrative gold mining industry. Alongside Wagner’s mining rights, Moscow also negotiated a lease for a Russian naval base at Port Sudan, which is currently stalled due to the political instability in the country.

Wagner mercenaries, alongside the RSF, use brutal tactics upon Sudanese civilians during their deployments. In exchange for security cooperation, the group has a lucrative and near undisturbed black-market operation with Sudanese gold.

Sudanese miners have given firsthand accounts of Wagner Group executions alongside the gold mines. The Darfur Bar Association has documented the Russian mercenaries near the mines and has testimonies of families of those killed by Wagner in South Darfur.

Crisis Group’s African program deputy director, Pauline Bax, has stated the attacks resemble looting more so than securing and protecting natural resources as the mercenaries had originally promised.

Military Operations by Ukraine in Sudan

Against the backdrop of Putin’s war orders for a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation became the most sanctioned country on Earth. Wanting to find multiple ways to evade sanctions, the Kremlin uses two primary means: oil and African black-market resources.

Already exporting excess oil to China and India to stray from the West and using intermediaries such as OPEC to help keep the economy afloat, Russia initially found a way to keep the war afloat through weaponizing energy. However, using homegrown drone advantages, Ukraine has successfully targeted numerous oil refineries to hamper Moscow’s income.

Kyiv has made a primary objective throughout the war to hunt down Russian troops and war criminals wherever they can find them. At one point, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Lt General Kyrylo Budanov, had plans to strike Russian forces in Syria before being dissuaded by Western intelligence agencies.

Escalation in Sudan—particularly by the Russian-backed RSF would drastically change the war and Ukraine’s operations abroad. Using special operations capable forces, Ukraine has targeted Wagner with FPV drones since the autumn of 2023 and helped Khartoum in their ongoing war against the RSF.

Ukraine’s special operations forces are also confirmed to be on the ground in an advisory role, as well as in deep reconnaissance and direct action against Wagner mercenaries who are now under more direct control of the Kremlin and its foreign intelligence services.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenksy met with Sudanese premier al-Burhan before the autumn engagement in a most likely diplomatic move to strengthen bilateral relations as Ukraine and Sudan face the same imperial threat from Russia.

Akin to South Korea and North Korea now putting chips on the table in Eastern Europe for their proxy conflict, Sudan now represents the African front of the Russian-Ukrainian War and shows the domino effects that could reach various regions of the world when a geopolitical quagmire becomes global. 

[Photo by Henry Wilkins/VOA]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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