Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday approved the construction of a naval logistics hub on the Red Sea coast of Sudan with the capacity to harbor nuclear vessels, Reuters revealed.
The station, slated for construction near Port Sudan, would potentially house up to 300 Russian naval personnel, plus civilian support staff, and serve primarily as a refueling and resupply station for military ships.
The Sudanese government will reportedly provide the land free of charge and grant Russia the rights to stock any relevant weapons in the facility. Russia is expected to fortify the position with surface-to-air missiles allowing the creation of an effective no-fly zone over the base.
In exchange, the Russian navy agrees to assist Sudan in search-and-rescue operations and support its anti-sabotage operations, the Moscow Times noted.
The Russian Navy currently maintains only one port outside of the former Soviet Union: the repair and resupply station in Tartus, Syria. Though not yet capable of housing Russia’s largest warships, the leased facility, provides the fleet with a land base in the eastern Mediterranean. In 2016, Russian Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov announced plans to overhaul the Tartus station and expand it into a full-sized base able to harbor larger ships.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet moors in the Crimea and has done so since the fall of the Soviet Union. Vessels traveling to the Sudanese facility must first pass through the Bosporus and Dardanelles — currently held by Turkey, a nation with which Russia maintains tense relations — then navigate through the Aegean Sea, before entering the larger Mediterranean and passing through the Suez Canal. The Tartus facility remains the only potential Russian-owned waypoint on the journey.
The Red Sea station, however, will potentially allow Russia to project its naval influence well into the Indian Ocean, along the African coast and into southern Asia.
At present, the Russian Navy has only one aircraft carrier in service: the Cold War-era Admiral Kuznetsov built in 1985. Though it has been under extensive repair for years, the carrier did deploy to Syria to aid Russian efforts at countering the Islamic State, marking the first carrier-mounted assault in Russian history.
The construction of the base near Port Sudan mirrors similar action by China. The communist-run nation, currently in a border spat with India, is seeking to expand its maritime influence in the Indian Ocean. Through its predatory Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) — a program in which China extends high-interest loans to developing nations for infrastructure projects then seizes the assets when the country inevitably defaults — China secured a majority stake in the key Sri Lankan port of Hambantota in 2017.
China also has a naval base in Djibouti, a small nation situated at the southern tip of the Red Sea, directly opposite Yemen. The Russian base in Sudan would bring Russian and Chinese warships into close proximity and likely generate tensions as the countries vie for influence in the region.