By Arab News
By Alsir Sidahmed
A more active Russian role in diplomacy is emerging in an area that was somewhat neglected in the past. However, it remains to be seen whether Moscow is searching for new playgrounds to score points against Washington, or is pursuing Vladimir Putin’s long cherished goal of restoring the nation’s superpower glories. Or, more simply, if the Russian leadership is trying to play a positive role in resolving international problems, given its sheer influence.
Interesting enough, Russia’s new area of interest is Sudan, and to be more precise the two republics of Sudan and South Sudan, now that the latter has opted for separation. Throughout the long civil war, which lasted some two decades, followed by a lengthy three years of peace talks and a period of six years for the comprehensive peace agreement to be implemented, Russia was absent. This absence can be attributed to the problems the country was facing in trying to adjust to its new reality, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Even after the separation of Sudan, a number of unresolved issues remain hanging. The most pressing issue is the disputed region of Abeyi, long claimed by the two tribes of Missierya of Sudan and Ngok Dinka of South Sudan. A number of influential South Sudanese leaders belong to Ngok Dinka, like the Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor, as well as the country’s representative at the UN, Dr. Francis Deng, and former Minister Dr. Luka Biong. These prominent leaders continue to exert pressure on the government to resolve the Abyei case, to the extent that all other issues have been kept hostage.
The African Union was mediating between the two nations and then decided to request the assistance of the United Nations Security Council. It was granted this appeal for help under the famous chapter seven of the UN Charter, which effectively means any party that disrupts the settlement of the dispute would be subjected to penalties and sanctions.
However the effectiveness of the UN decisions depend on the permanent member’s unified position and in particular the position of the permanent members with veto powers. The ensuing Syrian crisis highlights this fact clearly.
Sudan has been complaining for quite a while about the imbalance within the UN Security Council chambers in favor of South Sudan, led allegedly by the United States. Khartoum has found a way of redressing this discrepancy by fostering a strategic relationship with Russia, in the mining field particularly. On its part, Moscow has already appointed Mikhail Margelov as its special envoy. Unlike his US counterpart Princeton Lyman, Margelov speaks fluent Arabic and more importantly meets regularly with President Omar Al-Bashir. The US, which does not recognize the International Criminal Court (ICC), and prevents its diplomats from meeting with the Sudanese President (who is indicted by the ICC), has thus hindered its ability to interact with the top leadership.
Last week two delegations from both Khartoum and Juba were in Moscow trying to win over its support and in particular on the question of Abyei, if it is to be referred to the UN Security Council by the African Union.
Sudan is voicing the argument that for such disputes involving local tribes, imposed solutions from the outside will not work, especially solutions that entail bias, like denying the Missierya the right to participate in the pending referendum on whether Abyei is to join South Sudan or remain part of Sudan. On the other hand, South Sudan has argued that it is high time the issue of Abyei is settled, as the subject has passed through all sorts of negotiation tables, including international arbitration in the Hague and what remains is implementation only.
Abyei has been dubbed the Kashmir of Sudan and it remains to be seen whether Moscow will find in this new African hot-zone a new playground, where it can advance its goals and stage a comeback as a world power.
One point must be highlighted regarding the argument that such contested disputes are difficult to resolve through an imposed solution from abroad, which leads us to the general diplomatic dictum that says: Leave regional issues to be settled by regional organizations.