Welcome to While You Weren’t Looking, the weekly foreign policy update on new global stories.
Here’s what we’re looking at this week: Russia signs a treaty with Sudan Establishment of his first naval base in Africa Attack on a Nigerian school Hundreds of boys are feared missing and the Austrian police confiscated a supply of weapons with links to them Neo-Nazi groups in Germany.
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Russia wants to build a naval base in Africa
Russia has signed an agreement with Sudan to set up a naval base in the country as Moscow seeks to expand its military reach in the Middle East and North Africa. The agreement, published on December 8, enables Russia to station four ships and up to 300 employees in Port Sudan on the Red Sea as part of a 25-year agreement. It will be Russia’s first naval base in Africa.
The base is used as a logistics support center and as a repair and replenishment point. The agreement also gives Moscow the right to use Sudan’s airports to transport “weapons, ammunition and equipment” needed to support the base.
Port Sudan is significantly smaller than the Russian base in Tartus, Syria – Moscow’s only other naval facility outside of the former Soviet Union – but it will give Russia a strategic stop along the Red Sea that connects European and Asian waters and one of the busiest waterways in the world World. China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti at the mouth of the Red Sea in 2017. (The only permanent U.S. military base on the continent is also in Djibouti.)
At various points during the Cold War, the Soviet Union had bases in the region of southern Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia – but they were lost after the collapse of the USSR. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the restoration of the country’s global military power a cornerstone of his two decades in power.
While Russia has sought to increase its presence in the Mediterranean through its interventions in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, the Kremlin has also kept an eye on the Red Sea. Russian officials have previously examined the possibility of gaining a military foothold in Djibouti and Eritrea, although talks have not progressed.
Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir raised the prospect of a Russian base in the country at a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergi Shoigu in 2017. Talks continued with the head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council after Bashir’s fall in 2019. Moscow and Khartoum have long had a close relationship, and Russia is a major arms supplier to the country.
The Wagner Group, a private military security contractor that the US State Department has described as a “replacement” for the Russian Defense Department, is already well established in Sudan. Two mining companies in the Wagner network, believed to be backed by Putin’s ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, were denounced by the Treasury Department in July for formulating plans to suppress the pro-democracy demonstrations that toppled Bashir, including the “staging public executions ”, sanctioned. distract the protesters.
“Yevgeny Prigoshin and his network use Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and are spreading malevolent influence across the world,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement released at the time.
School attack in Nigeria. More than 300 Nigerian boys are feared to go missing after armed men attacked their boarding school last Friday. This attack commemorates the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls from Chibok City in 2014. Hundreds of students fled to the forest during the attack in the northwestern city of Kankara, and 333 are left out, Katsina state governor Amats Masari said Sunday .
Since the incident, students have emerged from hiding in the forest and it is unclear how many of the boys who are still missing were kidnapped. No group took responsibility for the attack. It resembled previous attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, although Kankara is far from northeastern Nigeria, where the militants mostly operate. The attack may have been carried out by violent gangs known to be operating in the area.
Terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to a quarterly terrorism intensity index published on Friday by the risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, seven of the ten countries most at risk of terrorism are in sub-Saharan Africa. Militant activity in the region has increased in recent years. In the last quarter alone, the terrorist attacks on the entire continent increased by 13 percent compared to the same period last year.
According to the index, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia and Syria are the most vulnerable countries, followed by Cameroon, Mozambique, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq.
China expresses freedom of expression. Hong Kong media tycoon and democracy attorney Jimmy Lai was charged with alleged conspiracy with foreign forces last Friday under China’s controversial new national security law. Lai, who was first arrested in August, is the most famous person to be charged under the new law, although other high-ranking Democratic figures have faced a number of other charges. Separately, Bloomberg confirmed on Friday that Haze Fan, a Chinese employee in its Beijing office, had been arrested earlier this week on suspicion of a national security threat.
Climate emergencies. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to explain the state of the “climate emergency” on Saturday when 70 world leaders met for a virtual climate summit on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Guterres noted that many G-20 members invested heavily in fossil fuel production and consumption as part of stimulus packages to contain pandemic-related recessions.
“The trillion dollars it will take to recover from COVID is money we will borrow from future generations,” Guterres said. “We cannot use these resources to establish guidelines that will burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.”
Germany’s right-wing extremist. The Austrian police confiscated large quantities of weapons, ammunition and hand grenades in order to help build a right-wing extremist network in Germany. Five men with ties to neo-Nazi groups were arrested in a series of house searches. The investigation that led to the discoveries was originally aimed at organized drug-related crime, but officials uncovered cross-links with the far right. Seventy-six automatic and semi-automatic weapons as well as 100,000 rounds of ammunition, 14 small arms and six grenades were recovered.
The relationship between Beijing and Moscow. Strengthening Beijing’s ties with Moscow and restoring ties with Washington will be high on China’s foreign policy agenda for the coming year, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Friday. “We need to deepen the comprehensive strategic cooperation between China and Russia to create a Sino-Russian pillar for world peace and security and global strategic stability,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post.
Russia and China have deepened their political and economic ties in recent years, but the relationship is not without its problems because of its asymmetry and the areas of competing interests.
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Novichok negroni. A joint investigation by Bellingcat and the Russian news website The Insider has implicated the Russian security services in the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Cell phone and travel data showed that agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who specialize in poisons, followed Navalny for three years, including to the Russian city of Tomsk in August, where doctors believe he was in a cocktail with him fatal nerve agent Novichok has been poisoned. The investigation reveals the identity of several employees involved in the poisoning.
Eliot Higgins, co-founder of Bellingcat, described the report as the biggest story the outlet had ever published. To give you an idea of the importance of the project, it came from an organization that exposed the Russian intelligence agents who poisoned Sergei Skripal in the UK and tracked the movements of the Russian missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. Watch Navalny’s own video of the investigation here.
That’s it for this week.
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