Munzoul Assal, professor at the University of Khartoum, urges civilian actors to come together.
10 May 2022

Sudan’s Russian turn

Cuts in Western funding have left Sudan on the edge of complete economic breakdown. The country’s military rulers have turned to Russia seeking support. -The military regime is driving Sudan to the brink of collapse, says professor Munzoul Assal.


Two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Sudan’s second in command general Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, headed off to Moscow. His meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov raised eyebrows. Sudan is already ostracized by the West. Why risk making the situation even worse?

-Going to Russia was a stupid move. The timing could not possibly have been worse, says Munzoul Assal, professor of social anthropology at the University of Khartoum and core team member in the Assisting regional universities in Sudan (ARUS) programme. He has recently been visiting colleagues and partners in Bergen planning for the next programme’s next workshop.

Assal explains that Hemedti’s trip to Moscow was met with little understanding in Sudan. But only a few days after, Sudan’s military rulers made the situation even worse. On 2 March, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine. The decision to condemn the Russian invasion was passed with an overwhelming majority. 141 countries voted in favour. Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Russia and Syria voted no. Sudan, alongside 34 other countries, abstained from voting. How did Sudan end up in this crowd?

On the brink of financial collapse
After months of protests, the determined crowds and a coalition of civilian actors succeeded in ousting former Sudanese president Omer Al-Bashir in 2019. The atmosphere was one of optimism and hope. There was light at the end of the tunnel; the US’ blanket sanctions towards Sudan came to an end and the economy was picking up. Ex-pats had started sending money back home through the banking system, and the exchange rate was stabilized. The were signals that Sudan would be relieved from some of its debt through the HIPC initiative, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was providing technical and financial support.

But that all changed after the Sudanese military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, seized control in a military coup. The international society, spearheaded by the US, again turned to money to make its viewpoint on what was going on in Sudan clear. American sanctions have been re-introduced albeit in a more targeted manner. Trying to avoid the mistakes of the past, where the entire Sudanese people bore the brunt as a consequence of economic sanctions, this time around the US Department of the Treasury specifically sanction for example the Sudanese police force because of the way they have been treating protesters. But still. Sudan is yet again moving towards isolation, and it has a severe negative impact on the economy. The inflation rates have sky rocketed, prices are high, and there is a very real risk of food shortage. According to a report from the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 18 million Sudanese will experience food shortage by the end of 2022.

Sudan is yet again moving towards isolation, and it has a severe negative impact on the economy.

When discussing general Hemedti’s visit to Russia, it is easy to point to Sudan’s dire economic situation. But Munzoul Assal says there are rumours about a different motivation; that Hemedti has connections to the Russian paramilitary organization the Wagner Group, and that the trip was made for strictly personal reasons. But no matter what the real reason behind the visit may have been:  

- When Sudan abstained from voting on the UN resolution, it was perceived as a strong signal that we are siding with Russia. And to be perfectly honest, no one will buy into any explanation claiming that Hemedti’s trip to Russia was about seeking financial support. Russia is in no position to provide any financial support, he says.

What only six months ago looked like the beginnings of a much brighter future is now shattered. The path the military rulers seem to have chosen leaves them with very few options. Sudan’s ‘circle of friends’ – the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi-Arabia – are not stepping up. Neither can they be expected to, according to Assal. They will not provide support to a regime that clearly lacks the support both of its citizens and the international community.

The path the military rulers seem to have chosen leaves them with very few options.

-The military regime is driving Sudan to the brink of collapse. There will be no Sudan if they continue like this, says Assal.


  • The Assisting Regional Universities in Sudan (ARUS) is a collaboration between CMI, the University of Bergen, Ahfad University for Women, the University of Khartoum, and seven regional universities in Sudan.
  • The programme aism to strengthen the competencies of regional universities to conduct high quality research on development challenges. Based on such research, the programme targets stakeholders to propose policy changes.
  • ARUS is funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Khartoum.


Two options for the military rulers
So what are the options for the military rulers? According to Assal, there are only two: Negotiations or a call for elections. Neither are straight forward.

-For real negotiations to take place, the parties will have to sit down together. This will likely be difficult as the civilian actors do not trust its military counterpart.

He argues that the most viable option is to call for elections, but only at the leadership level of the sovereign council. A parliamentary election is premature and could also easily be rigged, he claims. A direct election of the leader of the sovereign council would be too difficult to rig, hence it would have more legitimacy. An elected leader of the sovereign council can then appoint a prime minister, then hold parliamentary elections in three years.

-This could be a possible way to avoid a crisis, and may even lead to positive change, says Assal.

Until then, the protests are going to continue. In Khartoum, there are protests several times a week. Also in other parts of the country, protesters regularly take to the streets knowing that it could be the last thing they do. There are hardly any protests without people getting killed or injured by the Central Police Reserve Forces (anti-riot police), and sometimes also the security forces and the military. So far 90 people have been killed, and more than 4000 injured. No one is held accountable.

 So far 90 people have been killed, and more than 4000 injured.

Following the Sudanese people’s struggle form the outside, it is almost unfathomable. Their determination, their organizing skills, their lack of fear.

But inside Sudan, life goes on. People go to work, children go to school, friends visit. How to move on from the standstill?

It is time to leave old grudges and move to the next level, argues Assal. If the revolution is to get any further and reach its ultimate goal of democracy, it is time to move on.

-It is so easy to blame the military. But the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) also have to take their share of the blame. The different factions within the FFC have constantly been quarreling. It seems they cannot agree on anything. We will never get anywhere if this doesn’t stop. We need a unified front if we are to confront the military. This is what I fail to understand: If all the parties involved say that they do not want military rule, then how hard can it be to come together?