By Paul Goble
Russia hopes to open a 1500-man naval base in the breakaway republic of Somaliland in the horn of Africa, a region where numerous countries have done so in recent years because of its strategic location. But in exchange, Africa sources say, the Somaliland leadership expects Russia to recognize its independence from Somalia.
If that happens, Moscow, which under Vladimir Putin has recognized two breakaway republics on the territory of the former Soviet space and promoted secessionist movements in Europe and the United States, would send a powerful signal that it is now prepared to get involved with secessionist groups in Africa, which are both numerous and troublesome.
And that more than the extent to which such a base would challenge other countries including the United States and China which have military facilities in the horn could open the way to even greater Russian adventurism, especially coming on the heels of Russian intervention in the Central African Republic.
According to reports in the Moscow media this week, Russian diplomats began talking with the breakaway government at the end of last year about the possibility of establishing a base in Somaliland and are close to an agreement (newizv.ru/news/society/09-04-2018/rossiya-razmestit-voennuyu-bazu-v-nepriznannom-gosudarstve-na-territorii-somali and iarex.ru/news/57044.html).
The base would be home for two minesweepers, four frigates, and two submarines, a reflection of Russia’s inability to build larger ships. It would also have two long runways capable of handling up to six military transport jets and 15 fighters, the Russian media say. Moscow reportedly has offered 250 million US dollars in investment.
Somaliland in turn wants official Russian recognition and has not been shy about talking about that in the media. Whether the republic will get that remains to be seen, especially as one country – the UAE – already has a base there but has not officially recognized the breakaway republic.
Moscow, however, has shown itself more than willing to violate the international rules of the game; and consequently, it may be quite prepared to shake things up by taking this step, especially as that likely would allow Russia to claim a military presence there without having to spend money it does not now have.