Russia has struck a deal with Sudan to establish a naval base in the country, as Moscow seeks to expand its military reach in the Middle East and North Africa. On 11 November 2020, the Russian government announced its agreement with Sudan to establish a naval base at the city of Port Sudan. While the Russian navy already enjoys access rights to the Red Sea port, the concession with Khartoum envisages the creation of a Russian logistics centre that will host up to 300 personnel and four naval units, including nuclear-powered vessels, as part of a 25-year agreement. It will be Russia’s first naval base in Africa.

In exchange for the concession, the Kremlin will send military advisers to train Sudanese forces and will be allowed to use Sudanese airports and airspace to support its base in Port Sudan including transport of “weapons, ammunition and equipment.” The base will be used as a logistics support centre, and repair and resupply point. On top of that, Moscow will be in charge of security at the base, giving it the chance to install advanced radar and air defence systems.

Russia joins the Red Sea scramble

Port Sudan is significantly smaller than the Russian naval base of Tartus in Syria, but it will give Russia a strategic foothold along the Red Sea, which links European and Asian waters and is one of the world’s busiest waterways. China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, at the mouth of the Red Sea. The only permanent US military base on the continent is also in Djibouti.

At various points during the Cold War, the Soviet Union had bases in the region in South Yemen, Somalia, and Ethiopia, but they were lost following the USSR’s collapse. Vladimir Putin has made restoring the country’s global military might a cornerstone of his two decades in power.

Regional power play

While Russia has sought to beef up its presence in the Mediterranean through its interventions in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, the Kremlin has also kept one eye on the Red Sea which has become a strategic pivot for countries with global ambitions like Russia. This is the rationale behind the long-sought naval base in Sudan, which will allow Moscow to span its military capabilities—and hence its influence—from the Black Sea, down through the eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Former Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, raised the prospect of hosting a Russian base in the country during a 2017 meeting with Russian Defence Minister Sergi Shoigu. After Bashir was ousted in 2019, the discussions continued with the head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council. Moscow and Khartoum have long enjoyed a close relationship, and Russia is a major supplier of arms to the country.

The Wagner Group

The Wagner Group, private military security contractors that the US State Department has characterised as a “surrogate” for the Russian Ministry of Defence, already has a well-established presence in Sudan. Two mining companies from the Wagner network, which is believed to be backed by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, were sanctioned by the US Treasury in July for formulating plans to suppress the pro-democracy demonstrations that toppled Bashir, including “the staging of public executions” to distract the protesters.

Why is the Red Sea important?

The area is rich in natural resources like gas and gold, and home to two critical chokepoints in global trade: the Suez Canal and the Bab el-Mandab strait.

Besides political considerations, the Red Sea is already particularly crowded—the United States, France and China maintain military bases in Djibouti. Now the United States will have to deal with Russia’s accrued military presence in a pivotal region. The main reason of concern is Russia’s increased capability to operate militarily in the proximity of two of the most relevant chokepoints of the world, Suez and Bab el-Mandab. Since 10% of the world’s trade and 9% of oil shipments cross these points every day, controlling them is of crucial importance for global economic stability and security. In the long term, Russia’s footholds in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea will affect the United States’ control over Suez and Bab el-Mandab, bringing an intensification of global power competition and potentially turning these chokepoints into flashpoints.

Sudan in the Bible

The word Sudan is not actually found in the Bible, but we do find the ancient territory of the Sudan called in the Bible “Cush.” Cush is often translated Ethiopia in the KJV.

The Hebrew word rendered “Ethiopia” is, according to Strong, Kûsh, and is often rendered “Cush” in the AV. Cush was the name of a son of Ham (Gen 10:6). It is thought that some of his descendants may have gone east and settled in Cushistan. However, the primary area of settlement was to the south of Egypt, where his descendants formed the kingdom of Kush, also known as Nubia.

The kingdom of Kush

There is total agreement among scholars that the specific land of Kush, a specific powerful kingdom, was just south of Egypt and that it was centered in what is now northern Sudan. It had vaguely defined borders that fluctuated throughout the hundreds of years of its existence, as did Israel and Judah. Evidence for the location of Kush comes from both the biblical text itself and from a variety of archaeological sources.

Location of Kush

Several biblical references pointing to the location of Kush clearly link it with Egypt, such as Ezekiel 30:9; Psalm 68:31; Nahum 3:7-9; Isaiah 20:3-5. That Kush was just south of Egypt is shown by Ezekiel 29:10 (ESV) when he speaks of the punishment coming upon Egypt: “Therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush.” Migdol was on the Mediterranean at the northern end of Egypt, Syene (modern Aswan) was at the south end of Egypt, so Ezekiel’s prophecy includes all of Egypt, from the northern coast to the southern edge, “as far as the border of Kush.” This puts biblical Kush just south of Egypt at that point in history.

This is also seen in Daniel 11, where the king of the north is described as invading Egypt with “the Libyans and the Ethiopians [Hebrew Kûshiy] …at his steps” (v43). The writer Nicolas Soteri states: “In what is now modern Sudan, Kush was centred on the Middle Nile—downstream from the confluence of the White and Blue Niles at Khartoum.” 1

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary refers to Cush as “The land south of Egypt, also called Nubia, which includes parts of Sudan. Cush began just beyond Syene (modern Aswan; Ezek 29:10). …It’s ancient Greek name was Ethiopia, not to be confused with the modern nation of Ethiopia (Abyssinia).”

History of Kush

During the 8th century BC, Kush expanded beyond its borders northwards and took control of Egypt. The Kushite king, Piye, completed the conquest started by his father Kashta, of the whole of Egypt, creating an empire that stretched from central northeast Africa to the Mediterranean. Kushite kings were to rule Egypt as Pharaohs for just under a century, and play a major role, for a brief period, in the international power-politics of the day. One of the Kushite kings who ruled Egypt is mentioned in 2 Kings 19 in connection with Rabshakeh: “And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia [Hebrew Kûsh], Behold, he is come out to fight against thee: he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah…” (v9). When the Assyrians invaded Egypt they drove the Kushites out.

The kingdom of Kush declined from the 1st century onwards and was eventually overrun by the Aksumite empire in the south. The Romans had called the Kushite kingdom Ethiopia, but it was the Aksumite empire which would form the basis of modern Ethiopia.

The Kushite empire eventually split into three states: Nobatia, Makuria and Aiwa. By the 7th century there were just two states, Makuria having absorbed Nobatia. These states had initially adopted a Christian culture. However, from the 7thcentury onwards the states came under pressure from Arab Muslims, and by the 15th century Arab incursions had led to the states becoming Islamic. Nevertheless, in the south the country continued to be dominated by black Africans. This north-south divide continues to be felt to the present day.

Britain and the Sudan

In 1898, British-Egyptian forces led by Lord Kitchener, established a joint British-Egyptian rule in Sudan. In Isaiah 43:3 Yahweh declares: “For I am Yahweh thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia [Hebrew Kûsh] and Seba for thee.” This had a fulfilment when Britain received control of Sudan in 1898. This “ransom” was given for the part that Britain played in the restoration of the Jews to Palestine.

Control of the Sudan also gave Britain another benefit which was strategic. During the Second World War the Sudanese helped the Allies in a number of ways: their Sudan Defence Force prevented Italy from gaining a foothold in Sudan, giving time for British and Indian forces to arrive in strength; the Sudan railways and ships helped supply forces with food; and the Sudan government also gave gifts of cash to Britain and India.

Sudan independence

Sudan gained independence in 1956. Since then, for most of the time, it has been racked by civil war. This war has been fought between the government forces in the north and the rebel forces in the south led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The roots of the violence have never changed: British-ruled Sudan wasn’t a country; it was two. The south is tropical, under-developed, and populated by Dinkas, Nuers, Azandes, and some hundred other ethnic groups of African descent. The north, by contrast, is drier, and wealthier—a Saharan world, with strong links to the Muslim Middle East.

North and South Sudan

In part, to prevent neighbouring Egypt from claiming northern Sudan as its own, the British lumped the Sudan’s north and south together. The two parts of the country are very different, though: the north is mostly Arab and Muslim, while the south is made up of ethnic sub-Saharan Africans who are Christian or Animist.

Until 2011, they were one country. That year, following decades of civil war, an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted in a January 2011 referendum to secede and become, in July 2011, Africa’s first new country—South Sudan—since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993. Today, conflict continues to roil both countries.

Sudan in Prophecy

Russia’s move into the Sudan is significant in relation to two well-known passages of Scripture concerning the “latter days” (Ezek 38:16) and “the time of the end” (Dan 11:40). Both Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 11 indicate that when Gog or the king of the north invades Israel, that North Sudan will be allied to Russia.

Ezekiel 38 describes the invasion of Israel after its re-establishment as a nation in the land (vv 8,9,11,12,14,16,18). The invader is Russia, verse 2: “Son of man, set thy face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him” (RV). Gesenius states that “Rosh” is a reference to “undoubtedly the Russians.” Unger’s Bible Dictionary describes this as “the actual invasion of Palestine by a great northern confederacy…headed up by Russia.”

The confederate nations are described as a “great company” (v4) and “all thy company that are assembled” (v7). Some of the “great company” is named in verse 5: “Persia, Ethiopia [Hebrew Kûsh], and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet” (KJV). Many other translations translate this as “Persia, Cush, and Put” (RV, RSV, ESV, ASV, Young’s Literal Translation). Cush as we have seen is a reference to Sudan, and in particular to North Sudan. So here is a small detail of the prophecy which is coming into the picture as Russia establishes a naval base in North Sudan. This is yet another of the many unmistakable signs that we are living in “the latter days.”

In chapter 11 Gabriel reveals to Daniel how the angels would rearrange the world scene to provide for the final outcome of the divine plan. This would require important world-wide crises to occur. It was necessary that two mighty powers be developed, described as “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.” These would develop out of Alexander’s Grecian empire after his death and would ripple down to “the time of the end” (Dan 11:40) when, in the latter-day manifestation, the king of the north “shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown” (Dan 11:41). “The Libyans and the Ethiopians [Kûshiy = Sudan] shall be at his steps” (Dan 11:43), “And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.” (Dan 11:45). The ESV translates Daniel 11:43 as “the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train,” and Rotherham has “with Libyans and Ethiopians [Kûshiy = Sudan] among his followers.”

Daniel predicts that Sudan will be among the followers of the king of the north when Russia advances against Israel (“the glorious land” or “the glorious holy mountain”) in the latter days. This alignment of Russia and Sudan is what we expect to see before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to the earth, for “at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1).

References:

  • (1) Soteri, N. (2003), “Africa’s other pyramids”, BBC History Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 30
  • Russia Revisits an Old Cold War Battleground (Stratfor)
  • Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base in Sudan (OrientalReview.org Dec 2017)
  • Russia and Sudan – New Naval Base Agreement a Sea Change for the Region (https://globalriskinsights.com/2020/12/russia-and-sudan-new-naval-base-agreement-a-sea-change-for-the-region/)
  • The New Great Game at Sea (https://warontherocks.com/2020/12/the-new-great-game-at-sea/)
  • Russia to Build Red Sea Naval Base (https://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/russia-to-build-red-sea-naval-base/)
  • History of Sudan – Wikipedia