Opinion| US-Russia conflict over the lands of Sudan

Marwa El- Shinawy
10 Min Read

Today, Sudan is facing a new form of state collapse. The only beneficiary of it is external powers, similar to what happened in many neighbouring countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, or the countries of the Greater Middle East, as the United States of America calls it. At first glance, what is happening in Sudan appears to be an internal conflict between the two components or poles of power: the Sudanese army led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Hemedti. 

Nevertheless, those who follow the political history of the Middle East know that what is happening today is nothing but a new episode in the conflict between Russia and the West over the land of Sudan, especially after Russia’s recent incursion into Sudan and the Horn of Africa in general.

     In an article recently published in the Foreign Policy magazine, entitled “In Sudan, US Policies Paved the Way for War,” the magazine dealt with the recent crisis in Sudan, and the ongoing clashes between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, noting that it was the American policies that paved the way for the war in Sudan. This is through Washington’s insistence that “there is a real opportunity to continue working for the country’s transition to civilian leadership.”

   The magazine believed that it was the “misleading effort” that promoted the idea of integrating the Rapid Support Forces into the Sudanese Armed Forces, despite its impossibility. 

Although the article did not mention the reasons that make this matter intuitively impossible, we can deduce some of these reasons, the most important of which is the state of asymmetry between the structures of the regular army and the RSF militia. This is in addition to the disagreement between the regular armies and the militias regarding armament policies, foreign policy, and financing. 

It is known that the Rapid Support Forces militia have other funding sources other than the state budget, the most important of which is the so-called “Princes of Gold” coalition, and the revenues from the participation of its forces outside the country, which makes them adopt a different foreign policy agenda. 

This contradiction between the two parties, which is well known to the United States, led to the start of the “tragic conflict” in Sudan today, which could have been easily predicted.

    But the question that arises now is what is the goal of the United States in fueling a civil war in Sudan, and how this can lead to limiting the Russian incursion there. To answer this question and to understand the current political scene in Sudan and in many countries of the Greater Middle East, we must go back to history.

    With the end of World War II, American policy focused on preventing the Soviet Union from penetrating south and west, by adopting the containment theory developed by George Kennan, Director of the Planning Department at the State Department and former US ambassador. This theory of containment turned into a practical policy adopted by the Truman administration and made it an integrated strategy for the post-war period, especially after the Soviet Union succeeded in penetrating most of Eastern Europe and extending its influence over it. And to prevent a similar breakthrough, American attention focused on the Middle East and the Gulf region, which increased in importance after the oil discoveries.

     In the implementation of containment policies, Washington worked to build what is known as the northern security belt, where attention focused on Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan to contain the Soviet Union and prevent it from penetrating warm waters and oil sources. And with the aggravation of hostility, the Arab region turned into another main theatre of conflict between the two great powers, along with Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Therefore, the focus shifted from the northern belt region to the heart of the Arab region and the Greater Middle East in general. Thus, the US-Soviet competition represented the main international conflict and the most important external actor in shaping the regional political equations and the accompanying security arrangements in the Gulf region and the Middle East in the post-World War II period until today.

     To complete the efforts aimed at containing the influence of the Soviet Union, the United States sought to surround the Soviet Union with armies of severe religious, sectarian, and racial intolerance so that they would be hostile to the Soviets on the intellectual level. Therefore, the United States worked to fuel sectarian and religious conflicts and support fundamentalist and fanatical sects to use them in that political war. The first person to crystallize this policy and turn it into a political theory was Zbigniew Brzezinski, senior national security adviser during the Carter administration. This is where he presented his theory of creating an arc of crises to encircle the Soviet Union in 1979 coinciding with the Iranian revolution in a book entitled (Crescent of Crises). In this book, Brzezinski identified the region of the crescent of crises, starting from the Horn of Africa to India, that is, from the Indian subcontinent to the coast of North Africa. This is because this region has a strategic location that is unmatched by any other site, as it is the last major region of the world rich in wealth and directly adjacent to the Soviet Union, and includes about three-quarters of the world’s oil reserves. This theory was later developed during the Bush administration under the name of the Greater Middle East project, which destroyed most of the countries of the Middle East.

     We have practically witnessed the creation of this arc of crises in our region as early as the 1990s, and its development with the beginning of the third millennium, with the beginning of the dismemberment of states from within, and the ignition of ethnic and sectarian conflicts, starting with Somalia, followed by Sudan, and ending with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. We witnessed the demobilization of the army, the demolition of state institutions, and even the destruction of records that contain citizens’ identities, then the provoking of internal divisions, and the multiplying of terrorism in the region, by a factor of three, according to the estimates of the CIA. We also witnessed the subsequent launching of the theory of creative chaos within the framework of the waves of the so-called Arab Spring, which swept across Syria and Libya, and the spread of the phenomenon of terrorism, with the multiplication of its organizations that have many names, all the way to “ISIS”, so that the arc of crises was completed to surround almost the entire Arab world.  

    In sum, the conflict in Sudan today is a new episode of the US-Soviet conflict to add a new crisis and a new country to the countries of the arc of crises. This arc, which extends geographically in the form of a crescent, starts from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east, and ends and extends to Somalia and Sudan. Under this multi-sectarian arc, tribes, and peoples, there is a lake of wealth, in addition to 40% and 60% of oil and gas. For all these objective reasons, this arc has witnessed cases of coups, wars, and permanent chaos over the past three decades. International tensions and regional polarizations are likely to continue for an unknown period, and chaos will not settle until it is agreed to divide the country’s wealth to meet the desires of multinational companies and the interests of major countries in parallel and understanding with the emerging regional powers.

Dr. Marwa El- Shinawy is an academic and writer.

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