Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that private Russian companies were training the army in Sudan, confirming for the first time their presence in the country. The ministry denied that the Russian mercenaries are linked to Russian state bodies or that they were helping to quell the current protests against President Al Bashir.
“According to our information, representatives of Russian private security companies, who have nothing to do with Russian state bodies, really do operate in Sudan,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
Zakharova said she was responding to what she called an irresponsible story in the British press which she said had falsely alleged that Russian mercenaries were helping the Sudanese authorities quell the protests, Reuters reported this week.
“Their task (of the private security firms) is limited to training staff for the military and law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Sudan,” Zakharova said.
Relations between Sudan and Russia’s have been steady and Omar Al Bashir met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 and 2017. At that time President Al Bashir invited more Russian companies to invest in Sudan, especially in oil, mining and agricultural fields.
Sudan’s heavy armed presence during the demonstrations, which have been named the largest against President Al Bashir in decades, in the past month has been widely reported. In addition there were reported sightings of what a number of observers speculated to be vehicles and contractors of a Russian private military company.
On December 26, a political observer on Twitter posted pictures of Russian-manufactured military-style trucks.
Russia and CAR
Last week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for an independent international enquiry into last July’s murder of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic. An investigation indicated that a CAR police officer and Russian military advisers were involved.
Journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko went to the CAR to make a documentary about the activities of mercenaries working for Wagner, a private Russian security linked to the Kremlin. The CAR and Russian authorities insist that their triple murder on July 29 was the result of an armed robbery that went wrong.
Radio Dabanga reported in August 2018 about the presence of a force about 500 Russian soldiers strong, that was stationed near Um Dafug on the border between South Darfur and the Central African Republic (CAR). It later withdrew into the CAR in the direction of Bembere.
Reportedly the Russian soldiers were received and hosted by the government in a camp 15 kilometres south of Um Dafug. There had been a Russian presence in the area for the past five months.
Witnesses and trusted sources in Darfur have explained about the nature and function of the force. According to source on the ground, during their five-month stay in the area, the troops were conducting military training for some 600 Seleka Muslim rebels from CAR and Sudanese soldiers.
They report that the training includes the dismantling and installation of advanced types of weapons, instruction for driving vehicles, and training for paramedics.
The sources said that the forces withdrew on Tuesday from Um Dafug area into the CAR towards Bembere. The retreating Russian forces took all their vehicles and equipment and left only 50 people and one vehicle 15 kilometres south Um Dafug.
In addition, Sudanese arms traffickers have been supplying small arms to Muslim rebels in the CAR, according to a report to the UN Security Council by the panel of experts tasked with monitoring sanctions on the CAR.