When Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union in December 1991, many Europeans naively thought that the new Russian government would fully embrace “Western” values.
Two decades later, after a brutal war in Chechnya and a brief conflict with Georgia in 2009, few in Brussels or elsewhere hold that view. Russian foreign policy has remained defiantly nationalist and pragmatic, much to the distress of European and American diplomats. Russia’s cautions on Iran and threats to block UN Security Council proposals to pacify Syria are only the latest in a series of Western disappointments.
But now Moscow is preparing a diplomatic initiative that will put Western assumptions even more strongly to the test, by cozying up to the Sudanese regime of President Omer Hassan Ahmad al Bashir.
Al Bashir has a rather unusual international condition – he is the third sitting head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the first to be charged with genocide. On 12 July 2010, after a lengthy appeal by the prosecution, the ICC determined that there was sufficient evidence for charges of genocide to be brought and issued a warrant for his arrest containing three separate counts due to his government’s murderous rampages in Darfur.
But a number of countries have simply ignored the warrant, and al Bashir has made state visits to both Turkey and China.
The Russian Federation’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, traveled with a delegation to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum and held a series of meetings with top Sudanese officials. Minister of Foreign Affairs Salah al-Din Wansi headed the Sudanese delegation. Bogdanov said that he and his delegation came to Sudan to convene the first "Russian Sudanese Joint Working Group," formed after Sudanese Foreign Affairs minister Ali Karti's visit to Moscow in December 2010.
Following a meeting with al Bashir on 1 February, who encouraged the "Russian Sudanese Joint Working Group" meeting to put before them "the priorities and joint schemes which will help in enhancing the two countries' relations," Bogdanov returned to Moscow and told reporters that the Russian government intends to support Sudan in order to find durable solutions to all of its outstanding issues with South Sudan, saying, "President Omar al Bashir discussed very important issues and he briefed us on the outcomes of the recent African Union summit, and the differences between Sudan and South Sudan."
And oh, Bogdanov also added that his meeting with al Bashir touched on economic relations and Russian investments in the Sudan in the fields of oil, energy and railways before adding that the two countries shared “identical” views and his hopes that the ministerial meetings will produce the desired results.
Both Sudan and South Sudan attended the 18th African Union (AU) summit held in Addis Ababa on 29-30 January. The AU’s African Union High Level Panel is the main facilitator of ongoing talks between the two countries.
Al-Bashir held a meeting with South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit on the margins of the AU summit in a bid to resolve the dispute but the talks collapsed after Kiir oddly enough refused to sign Khartoum’s proposed oil agreement.
Bogdanov also held meetings with Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti as well as presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie.
Al Bashir’s interest in expanding ties with Moscow is simple – quite aside from providing additional diplomatic armor against the pesky ICC warrants, Sudan is interested in developing additional oil reserves in the country.
But the Russian Federation is a latecomer to the complexities of Sudanese politics, and it will be confronting another nation that already has a significant energy presence in both Sudan and South Sudan – China, which is ever so cautiously tilting towards the latter. In December China's Foreign Ministry publicly asked Sudan and South Sudan to resolve their oil transit issues through "friendly consultations."
After South Sudan seceded in July 2011, it took with it 75 percent of the Sudan's known oil wealth, but Khartoum controls the export pipelines. China depends on the two Sudans for about five percent of its oil buying roughly 365,000 barrels per day (bpd) of the former Sudanese unitary state’s 500,000 production. In the first ten months of 2011, China's imports of Sudanese crude were up 5.5 percent on the same period a year before, reaching 11.1 million tons, ranking seventh among China's oil suppliers.
Transit fees – South Sudan has proposed paying $1 per barrel to use Khartoum’s pipelines, while Sudan insisted on a $32.20 per barrel tariff, causing the South Sudanese government in late January to declare force majeure on loading its supplies of Nile and Dar Blend crude into pipelines and on 25 January South Sudan's parliament voted to halt oil production in the country.
Heightening Chinese concerns, Beijing is imploring South Sudan for help in securing the release of 29 Chinese construction workers belonged to state-owned Sinohydro Corporation, currently being held captive by rebels from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North in Sudan's border state of South Kordofan.
So, while the dragon and the bear increasingly line up on opposite sides of the Sudan-South Sudan dispute, the ultimate outcome is anything but clear beyond proving that family disputes are always the most bitter, especially when it concerns the inheritance.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com