By mid-2017, two Russian companies had received contracts in Syria offering security services in return for natural resources. Evro Polis, as mentioned in Part 1, was to receive 25% of natural gas and oil produced from fields in which they recaptured or provided security. The second company, Stroytransgaz, was given approval to mine phosphate at the Sharqiya phosphate deposit upon the recapture of the area. Evro Polis owned by Evgeniy Prigozhin, and Stroytransgaz by Gennady Timchenko, are both under US sanctions. Evro Polis deployed Wagner to recapture and guard oil and gas fields. Stroytransgaz had all their mining equipment arrive at the Russian naval base in Tartus. Striking similarities can be made to the situation in Sudan;
- Russia is establishing its power and influence in Sudan through investments into the energy, banking and mineral sector.
- Russia is improving diplomatic and economic relations with Sudan by selling arms, modernising and re-equipping the Sudanese army
- Russia is providing training and assistance to law enforcement and government forces, the security of Russian investments, and security of the regime, all through the private military company (PMC) Wagner
Establishing Resource Access
Russia’s interest in Sudan increased in 2015 when Russian geologists discovered large gold deposits in the north and eastern Sudan. The discovery led to the biggest mineral deal in Sudan’s history with the Russian mining company Sibir, while a total of 14 cooperation agreements in banking, oil, and minerals was signed. In November 2017, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
Bashir, wanted by the ICC for war crimes in Darfur, asked for protection against what he referred to as ‘aggressive acts of the United States’, blaming the US for the conflict which led to the oil-rich southern part of Sudan to gain independence. The meeting was also attended by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, while Prigozhin’s Concord Catering reportedly served the attendees.
The meeting led to the signing of various agreements, one of which was concession agreements of gold mining between the Ministry of Minerals for the Republic of Sudan and the company M Invest Ltd. Another was between the same ministry and the Russian company Kush For Exploration & Production Ltd. In the same meeting, the agreement of a Russian naval base in the Red Sea was initiated. Additionally, Russia was tasked with modernising and re-equipping the Sudanese army, including SU-30 fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles. It later became clear that an agreement had been made for state-owned Rosatom to build a nuclear power plant in Sudan by 2029. Reportedly, Bashir told Putin under the meeting that Sudan could be Russia’s “key to Africa”.
M Invest Ltd, a St. Petersburg based company, is reportedly owned by no other than Prigozhin. The director of M Invest Ltd, Andrei Mandel, used to be the director of Eurogroup, a company managed by Megaline. Megaline had two co-owners – Concord Management and Consulting and Lakhta, both of which had Prigozhin as majority holder, meaning Mandel used to work for Prigozhin. Additionally, through a string of companies, Megaline is linked to JSC Delta which officially owns 99% of M Invest. The subsidiary company of M Invest, Meroe Gold, started exploring Sudanese gold deposits in early 2018. Kush Ltd used to be owned by the state-owned Gazprombank. It is unclear who’s the head of the company at this point.
These Russian investments must be protected – that’s where Wagner comes in. Already in December 2017, within a month of the Sochi meeting, videos of local Sudanese militia undergoing military training surfaced. The videos did not show any Russians or non-local militia, yet the distinctive Russian accent of the instructors in the background was unmistakable. In the same month, mercenaries from Wagner returned early from Sudan due to severe malaria according to reports.
In March 2018, a mining site in northern Sudan experienced peaceful protests due to the government signing over the mining rights to Meroe Gold. The mine was guarded by Russians supported by Sudanese police, who suddenly opened fire on the protesters killing five civilians. In July 2018, witnesses reported about 500 Russian troops – Wagner mercenaries – being stationed in a Sudanese military camp in South Darfur close to the CAR border.
Reportedly, the Russians had arrived in 50 vehicles with military equipment and set up an area designated to receive helicopters. Protests in Atbara erupted in late December 2018 and rapidly spread to the capital Khartoum where they are still ongoing. On 31 December, ‘white men in camouflage’ started arriving in Ural-4320’s, Russian military vans. Following, pictures of Wagner personnel arriving prior to planned demonstrations then dispersing into smaller groups supporting the government forces and law enforcement started circulating.
The Russian embassy in Khartoum stated that these reports of Wagner participation in quelling demonstrations were ‘fake’. Just weeks after the official statement, Ukrainian intelligence (SBU) published evidence of the link between Wagner and M Invest (Prigozhin), and how their logistics are state-supported through an agreement between M Invest and the Ministry of Defences’ 223rdFlight Detachment.
The publication further refers to flight manifesto showing how Khartoum and Latakia in Syria operate as transit bases for operations in Syria and Africa, proving Wagner personnel works 2-month rotations. With the same manifestos, SBU compiled a list of 149 Wagner personnel directly involved in suppressing the democratic protests in Khartoum. Additionally, M-VITO registered private jet, commonly known to be owned by Prigozhin, has been tracked to have Beirut as its second most used destination, strategically placed close to Syria and Africa. The plane has also been observed in Libya, Sudan and Chad, however, the plane has on occasions gone off the radar over Egypt heading south, which could be an attempt to hide the extent of the flight route with likely destinations being Sudan or CAR.
Evidently, as in Syria, Prigozhin’s fleet of companies and entourage of mercenaries are deployed to Sudan. Whilst official Russian-Sudan relations are mainly based on arms deals and investments, the work on the ground is conducted unofficially. The Russian investments into mining infrastructure are protected by Wagner and law enforcement, while the fragile South Darfur is armed and trained by Russia and Wagner. The greatest investment, however, is Bashir and surely Wagner and Russia will do what’s necessary to keep him in power.
By using the Prigozhin-Wagner proxy for the groundwork, Putin’s regime can deny involvement in any wrongdoing and pursue a foreign policy unhindered by public opinion or legislative framework. In addition to the economic rewards, Russia can project power and influence onto the African continent, and possibly gain a strategically placed naval base in the Red Sea.
Image: Image: EU Bulletin (link)
This article was first published on 18-02-2019