Russia, West Envoys Offer Dueling Visions of Africa in Sudan

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(Bloomberg) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and envoys from the US and Europe have converged on Sudan simultaneously as the Kremlin and its Western opponents step up competition in Africa against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

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Lavrov’s visit to Khartoum on Wednesday — his second Africa tour this year — comes as an increasingly isolated Moscow seeks allies on the continent. Sudan is one of several African nations, including Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic, where Russia has bolstered ties in recent years, in part through the Kremlin-backed mercenary firm the Wagner Group.

The visit by six envoys from Europe and the US to Sudan was planned for a long time, and the talks on the same day involving Russia’s top diplomat came as a surprise in Western capitals, said three people familiar with the matter.

“Russia’s been strengthening its cooperation with African countries and other players are trying to block this,” said Nataliya Zaiser, who heads the Moscow-based Africa Business Initiative, a business lobby group. “We have our own strategy in Africa and will stick to that regardless.”

Sudan’s military leaders are being offered a choice similar to those facing juntas across Africa: allow democratic elections in return for potentially billions of dollars in aid and debt relief from the West, or move closer to Moscow and remain in power.

Read: Russia’s Footprint Grows in Africa as France Leaves Burkina Faso

The Kremlin has maintained cordial ties with the Sudanese junta, while the West held back aid over an October 2021 military coup that overthrew the transitional government established in 2019 after the ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir.

Lavrov will hold talks with Foreign Minister-designate Ali Al-Sadiq on his two-day visit to Khartoum. Discussions will focus on “bilateral issues aimed at promoting joint relations and enhancing cooperation between the two countries,” state news agency SUNA reported on Wednesday.

The EU officials are in the country to encourage the implementation of an internationally backed agreement signed in December by major opposition groups and the military-led government that’s supposed to lead to civilian rule. Protest groups say Sudanese military chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is still among those pulling the strings of power.

Lavrov on Tuesday visited Mali, and condemned what he described as the “colonial mentality” of European nations. Russia has relied on votes from African nations at the United Nations, including to counter resolutions criticizing Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop thanked Russia for its support, while referencing an as yet unfulfilled pledge to provide $100 million worth of fertilizers, cereals and fuel for the impoverished country.

--With assistance from Katarina Hoije and Oudaa Marouf.

(Updates with Lavrov’s arrival in Sudan in seventh paragraph. An earlier version of this story was corrected to remove the reference in the fourth paragraph to the ABI being government-backed.)

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