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The purpose of this essay is to provide an analysis of whether the contents of the memorandum reflect the actual foreign policy aims of Russia with regard to the countries of North Sudan and South Sudan. Also to be assessed is the extent to which the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, China, Britain and France – as well as the non-permanent ones would be persuaded by the memorandum’s findings. The context for this is that Russia enjoys good diplomatic relations with North Sudan and South Sudan, and, in common with most other states, backed full independence for South Sudan. But traditionally, Russia has allied itself with North Sudan and this relationship has been reciprocated through it being the biggest arms supplier for the Khartoum government.
However, in supporting South Sudan’s independence, Russia has agreed that the country met the conditions of statehood as set out in the Montevideo Convention of the Rights and Duties of States, which include having a permanent, defined territory, a population occupying this territory, and a government that has the capacity to govern domestically as well as conduct foreign relations. Furthermore, under the Constitutive Theory of Statehood, South Sudan has been recognised by other states, and it also fulfils the Declaratory Theory of Recognition: that it exists as a state in reality. Being given approval by the United Nations was probably the most important international imprimatur for South Sudan’s statehood, giving it recognition by the vast majority of the world’s states. Finally, North Sudan, with which the South has had a history of uneasy relations which have often resulted in outright war, has also given de facto recognition of the independence of its new neighbour. As a result, Russia has little reason to withhold its consent and, in fact, it was among the first states to formalise diplomatic relations with the new state by establishing an embassy in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Russia continues to loom in the background as regards the issue of oil. It has cemented its links with North Sudan not just through arms deals but by being a principal recipient of the country’s oil exports. But with the creation of South Sudan, up to three quarters of those oil reserves now lie within the borders of the new country – in itself a strategic reason for Russia to have established good, formal diplomatic relations with the country early. While tensions remain between North Sudan and South Sudan over this issue of ownership of oil reserves, Russia remains reluctant to intervene in a heavy handed way through the imposition of sanctions. Like its oft-times ally, China, it regards sanctions as an ineffective measure and as a Security Council member, it has stated repeatedly that the Sudanese oil reserves issue should be resolved between the two countries without resort to the Security Council. Russia’s own solution is that the region of Abyei, under which much of the disputed oil reserves lie, should be partitioned as part of an effective solution. As for the border town of Heglig, Russia believes it should continue to be part of North Sudan given the losses the country has sustained of oil resources due to the creation of the border with South Sudan. These, however, remain intractable issues for the parties directly involved.
In the background to all of this is the humanitarian issue around the considerable number of displaced people and refugees, as well as the controversy over the international arrest warrant for President of North Sudan Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, to appear before the International Criminal Court on genocide charges. China and Russia have both continued to back North Sudan through the illegal sales of attack and transport helicopters, fighter jets and other military hardware that have contributed to the humanitarian crises and the slaughter of innocent civilians in the region. While the US penalises the regime, Russia continues to seek favour with it, sending delegations to meet Al-Bashir’s government, and arguing that as head of state, he has immunity from being charged with genocide. By maintaining good relations with North Sudan and opening up relations with South Sudan, Russia has played a strategic game of consolidating its interests in the region, seeking to guarantee its oil supplies into the future and maintaining lucrative arms contracts while operating out of step with the United Nations as a whole.
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