When, with the collapse of the USSR, the 5th operational Mediterranean squadron ceased to exist, many had questions about the 720th logistics point in Syrian Tartus. Indeed, there was no regular patrolling of our fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, our naval ambitions were greatly squeezed, money for the army was sorely lacking and it seemed reasonable to reduce the above-mentioned MTO item "as unnecessary". Everything changed literally in an instant, when Russia decided to intervene in the Syrian conflict and the base in Tartus became an important staging post for weapons, ammunition, food and other components of the logistics of our military group in Syria.
And recently an agreement was signed between Russia and Sudan on the creation of a logistics center for the fleet in this African country. And to the quite reasonable question "why?" the history of a similar Syrian site is partly responsible. But in general, of course, there are aspects in this agreement that deserve separate mention and consideration.
First of all, a little factual information. The text of the agreement was published on the Russian portal of legal information. That is, now these are not the assumptions of journalists, not insiders, but the most, that neither is, "official". According to the agreement, the MTO point will be located approximately in the middle of the Red Sea, on the Sudanese coast, twenty kilometers from the largest Sudanese port of Port Sudan. The agreement is designed for 25 years, with the possibility of automatic prolongation for another decade, if neither party notifies the other party in writing about its termination a year before the expiration of the agreement. The personnel of the Sudanese MTO point will enjoy diplomatic immunity, and its entire territory will live according to the laws of the Russian Federation. The carrying and use of weapons will also be subject to Russian legal regulations.
Up to four vessels of the Russian Navy will be able to stay at this facility at the same time. Among other things, ships with a nuclear power plant will be able to go there, which is separately stipulated by the agreement. And the number of servicemen and specialists working in the PMTO is limited to three hundred people.
Part of the port and water area is transferred to Russia free of charge for the specified period. But in return, Russia also undertakes to provide free assistance to Sudan in the development of the country's armed forces, to ensure anti-sabotage and air defense of the port. The parties have already concluded a corresponding agreement on the supply of arms and military equipment to Sudan, which, for obvious reasons, is not published.
As can be understood from the context of the agreement, "gratuitousness" in this case is a very relative thing. And yet, we can assume that Russia will pay for its new base relatively inexpensively, mainly with not the latest weapons and equipment, which are unlikely to be useful to us on the battlefield, but for Sudan they will be more than useful.
Now let's return to the question of why we need this facility and what is its significance for Moscow. And here we will have to delve a little into the history of the issue...
The Soviet Union did not disregard this region. Nearby, in the Yemeni port of Aden, there was a military base of the Soviet fleet. Compared to the Sudanese, it was even more conveniently located - closer to the Persian Gulf, it locked the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, itself, while not being locked in the Red Sea. It would also be more convenient for fighting Somali pirates, because it was located directly opposite Somalia, in the region most affected by modern piracy. It should be noted that the Russian leadership took some steps to return the Russian fleet to Aden, but the sharp exacerbation of the internal political situation in Yemen and the civil war that began later put an end to these plans.
Negotiations were also conducted with other states of the region, in particular, with Djibouti and Eritrea located on the African coast. But, unfortunately, these contacts did not lead to the conclusion of an appropriate agreement, and the Russian leadership had to agree to a slightly less convenient, but still very good option in Sudan.
The advantages that Russia will receive lie not only in the fact that now we can keep our finger on the pulse of the world's largest transport artery. Yes, the Red Sea in the north rests on the Suez Canal and is the main route for the supply of Persian oil to the European market and the United States, and being able to control supplies without getting directly into the affairs of Egypt, which is traditionally rather friendly to us, is worth something in itself.
But if you look closely at the signed agreement, there is one more thing that draws your attention. According to the agreement, Moscow will provide the port's air defense, which is quite logical in itself. The width of the Red Sea in this place is about three hundred kilometers. And on the other side is Mecca and the largest port of Saudi Arabia, Jeddah. And now this is already interesting - if a long-range air defense system, such as S-300V4 or S-400, is deployed in the region, it will be possible to talk not only about maritime, but also about air control of the territory up to the largest and most important cities of Saudi Arabia. If, as was the case in Syria, an air force base of the Russian Aerospace Forces appears nearby, it will be possible to talk about the projection of power into the “soft underbelly” of the Saudis, which will at least have a positive effect on Moscow's negotiating positions in OPEC.
That is, no matter how defiant it sounds, Moscow will soon control the airspace over Mecca. Until recently, it seemed inconceivable, but now such a possibility is very clear against the background of seemingly not very significant negotiations and agreements.
Sudan is also interesting in another direction, namely in the African one. Although this country is located in the east of Africa, it has direct access to the central part of this continent. Yes, there are almost two thousand kilometers from the coast of the Red Sea to the Central African Republic, but the very fact of establishing relations with Sudan implies, in the future, the strengthening of military ties.
That is, it turns out that in the future, the lion's share of Africa can be controlled from Sudan. And this country itself is extremely interesting from the point of view of exploration and development of resources, trade and implementation of some joint projects.
As for the strengthening of these very ties, this task does not at all seem impossible. Sudan, after the secession of South Sudan, supported largely by Western countries, feels betrayed and is probably looking for new allies. Yes, and the situation in the region is not to say that it is very conducive to a peaceful mood - neighboring Ethiopia is going to block the Blue Nile and severely restrict its flow for several years, civil wars in Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia ended quite recently and constantly threaten to relapse, poverty reigns in the country , many millions of citizens are literally eking out a primitive existence ... Against this background, attempts to improve relations with one of the largest geopolitical players look quite expected. And how far Khartoum can go in its politics is anyone's guess. Moscow, of course, will find it difficult to compete with Beijing in “buying” African regimes, but it will certainly be able to derive its benefits from the situation.
A purely financial aspect must also be taken into account. The fact is that the passage of a ship through the Suez Canal is not a cheap pleasure. The tariff may differ depending on the type of vessel and its total tonnage, draft, dimensions, and so on. But at the moment we can talk about the price of 8-12 dollars per ton. That is, the passage of a warship, even not the largest, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Assuming that the Russian Navy plans to establish a permanent presence in the Red and Arabian Seas, the presence of a logistics center there could save us millions of dollars annually. Or, depending on the intensity of the presence, tens of millions. And this is already serious money and in the literal sense of the word "state interest". One of many in this case. And yet…