Russia’s Military Base in Mozambique: Intent, Impact & Impediment
November 9, 2020
November 9, 2020
This Grey Dynamics African Intelligence report analyses the potential establishment of a Russian military base in Mozambique. The geopolitical, economic, and military benefits and impact of a Russian base will be explored.
KJ-1. Based on the leak from German intelligence and the existing close relationship between Russia and Mozambique, it is highly likely that Russia has been approved to establish a military base.
KJ-2. It is likely that Russia will make use of the “contractually assured” approval, to extend its sphere of influence while benefiting economically from an increased presence.
KJ-3. It is highly likely that competing with the US and China in Africa is a motivating factor in the decision to establish a base in Mozambique.
KJ-4. It is likely that a base will increase the recruitment success of the Mozambique insurgency. With only a realistic probability of significant success against the insurgents.
KJ-5. It is not clear how the Russian presence would affect the French Total LNG project in Mozambique. It is likely that Russia will be investing in Mozambique’s natural gas resources, almost certainly under favourable terms for Russian companies.
German newspaper Bild, citing a German Foreign Ministry report, shared leaked intelligence that Russia was “contractually assured” it would be able to build military bases in Mozambique, Sudan, Madagascar, Egypt, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic. Russia has reportedly placed Africa as a ‘top priority’ for foreign policy/strategy. Since 2015 Russia has established 21 military cooperation agreements with African countries. Mozambique is an ideal choice for one of these bases, due to close political ties and the potential to increase economic ties through arms sales and natural resource agreements. This also serves to counter the US and growing Chinese influence on the continent.
Based on the leak from German intelligence and the existing close relationship between Russia and Mozambique, it is highly likely that Russia has been approved to establish a military base. Historically, Russia and Mozambique were close Soviet allies. In 2015, the two countries signed a technical and military cooperation agreement. While Mozambique on the United Nations platform regularly supports Russian foreign policy initiatives.
The Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, which officially does not exist, has been active in Mozambique against the ongoing insurgency. The group usually comes as a ‘package deal’ with cooperation with the Russian state. This not only is limited to military aid but in countries such as Sudan has manifested in the form of political aid, albeit in manipulative forms at times such as troll farms. The ties between the countries corroborate the German leaked report, making the judgment reliable
It is likely that Russia will make use of the “contractually assured” approval, to extend its sphere of influence while benefiting economically from an increased presence. A combination of benefits accompanies a potential Russian base in Mozambique. The military footprint alone extends Russia’s sphere of influence, with a strategic launching pad to the Indian Ocean.
Which is dominated by the US and China presence in comparison. Russia is the key weapons supplier to Africa (37.6%), a military base will usually coincide with agreements for military trade, as well as other key economic opportunities. The main economic opportunity to note is the natural resource reserves of Mozambique, gas reserves are a key economic lifeline for the Russian economy, and extraction contracts will be highly desirable and highly likely with a Russian presence.
It is highly likely that competing with the US and China in Africa is a motivating factor in the decision to establish a base in Mozambique. US AFRICOM has voiced its concern with the growing presence of Russia and China in Africa. Russia being the main supplier of arms to Africa seeks to maintain this dominance and expand to new and existing markets. By establishing a military base, Russia can counterbalance the existing US and Chinese presence in the continent.
While it can not outcompete China in economic investment, military and political expertise is an angle which it can and does market to compete with the two countries. By supporting autocratic regimes, Russia can share tactics and strategies that may likely be a major contributing factor to the success of the expansion. Mozambique is largely closer to Russia than its competitors, meaning this transition will highly likely be a smooth one.
It is likely that a base will increase the recruitment success of the Mozambique insurgency. With only a realistic probability of significant success against the insurgents. In the northern Mozambique region of Cabo Delgado, an IS-affiliated insurgency is challenging the government. The Wagner Group has been present in the country since at least 2019. While reports alleged that some personnel arriving is from Russian state rather than private personnel. This is a realistic possibility due to the almost certain links between the group and the state.
However, Wagner mercenaries failed to significantly impact the growth of the insurgency. Currently (20th August 2020) the government in Mozambique is struggling to regain control of the Mocimboa de Praia port from IS insurgents. Russian military contractors have failed, and it is hard to assess that more conventional warfare, which was the original Wagner approach will have a different impact. A Russian base alone will almost certainly increase the recruitment efforts of the group with likely success, under a ‘foreign invader’ narrative.
It is not clear how the Russian presence would affect the French Total LNG project in Mozambique. It is likely that Russia will be investing in Mozambique’s natural gas resources, almost certainly under favourable terms for Russian companies. The French oil giant Total signed a $14.6 billion debt agreement for its liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado (Mozambique LNG). This is one of several projects, which combined are worth $60 billion.
While the COVID-19 pandemic created a hurdle for the operations, the IS insurgents are now creating a potential ditch if the momentum continues. The group have already threatened Western companies, and the current port occupation has destroyed infrastructure that will take considerable time and manpower to repair. This infrastructure is crucial for the logistical viability of these projects. With Western investment in potential jeopardy, a potential Russian base requires a closer analysis of outcomes.
The base may stabilise the insurgency by aiding the Mozambique government. While if the Western companies abandon or delay operations, Russia may intervene with highly favourable terms for Russian companies. This lucrative move would be a major gamble and depend on success against the insurgents. The South African Development Community have voiced the need for support to Mozambique, but no commitment has been made.
There is little doubt that Russia would be likely to invest in natural gas reserves, even within an unstable environment. At least 68 US companies will supply the LNG projects with equipment and services, a clear example of US companies seeking to compete with Russia and China in Africa. This intent was voiced by U.S Export-Import (EXIM) Bank, which supports the businesses supplying the equipment and services.
Intelligence Cutoff Date 01-09-2020
Image: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (link)
Eren Ersozoglu is an analyst / contributor intern at Grey Dynamics. A former history graduate from Coventry University with a focus on links between terrorism and organised crime studying an MA in intelligence and security studies at Brunel University.