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Soviet Union and Sudan

The Soviet Union and Sudan established diplomatic relations on January 5, 1956. Sudan benefited from the Soviet Union's first significant military assistance program in a sub-Saharan Africa country. By 1970 it was estimated that there were 2,000 Soviet and East European technical advisers in the country. About 350 Sudanese received training in the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Soviet assistance corresponded with a dramatic growth in the Sudanese armed forces from 18,000 in 1966 to nearly 50,000 by 1972. The bulk of the equipment used by the ground and air forces throughout the 1970s and until the early 1980s was of Soviet origin, including tanks, artillery, and MiG combat aircraft.

Bilateral ties remained stable throughout the 1960s. At that time, the countries signed long-term agreements making it possible to successfully expand bilateral cooperation in various areas. After the military coup led by Nimeiri in May 1969, the government adopted the Five-Year Plan of Economic and Social Development, 1970-74. This plan, prepared with the assistance of Soviet planning personnel, sought to achieve the major goals of the May revolution (creation of an independent national economy; steady growth of prosperity; and further development of cultural, education, and health services) through socialist development.

Bilateral ties remained stable throughout the 1960s. After the May 1969 coup, Khartoum took steps to expand trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Exports to the Soviet Union rose dramatically in 1970 and 1971 as that country became Sudan's leading customer. The Sudanese Communist Party, which had become entrenched in the universities and trade unions during the 1960s, contributed to the emergence of a generation of officers that was predominantly anti-Western. Many officers received their initial training from Soviet advisers.

The Muhammad Ahmad Mahjub government accepted military, technical, and economic aid from the Soviet Union. Most military equipment wsa supplied by Soviet Union, 1968-71. Government operations against the rebels declined after the 1969 coup. However, when negotiations failed to result in a settlement, Khartoum increased troop strength in the south to about 12,000 in 1969, and intensified military activity throughout the region. Although the Soviet Union had concluded a US$100 million to US$150 million arms agreement with Sudan in August 1968, which included T-55 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft, the nation had not delivered any equipment to Khartoum by May 1969. During this period, Sudan obtained some Soviet-manufactured weapons from Egypt, most of which went to the Sudanese air force. By the end of 1969, however, the Soviet Union had shipped unknown quantities of 85mm antiaircraft guns, sixteen MiG-21s, and five Antonov-24 transport aircraft. Over the next two years, the Soviet Union delivered an impressive array of equipment to Sudan, including T-54, T-55, T-56, and T-59 tanks; and BTR-40 and BTR-152 light armored vehicles.

After the revolt against Nimeiri in 1971, however, relations deteriorated, and Soviet purchases dropped to almost nil. Vulnerabilities resulting from overreliance on one arms supplier became obvious when relations with the Soviet Union cooled considerably following the coup attempt against Nimeiri in 1971. Soviet and East European military advisers were expelled from Sudan for a year.

After the abortive communist-led coup of 1971, in which some communist officers were implicated, retribution fell on many of the officers with leftist leanings. The officer corps became increasingly conservative at a time when Nimeiri himself was stressing nationalism for Sudan.

Since the 1970s, Khartoum started unilaterally curtailing its contacts with the Soviet Union. After relations were repaired, previously arranged deliveries of tanks were completed and a new purchase of combat aircraft was negotiated. Military agreements with the Soviet Union remained in force until 1977, but Sudan began to pursue a policy of diversifying its arms sources. When Moscow promised extensive military aid to the revolutionary regime in neighboring Ethiopia, the Sudanese government expelled all ninety Soviet military advisers and ordered the military section of the Soviet embassy in Khartoum closed. Limited cooperation with Soviet Union continued until 1977. Egypt and China subsequently became prominent arms suppliers.

After the April 1985 military coup the participants of which overthrew the regime of Gaafar Nimeiry, bilateral relations began to be gradually restored on the initiative of the Sudanese side. The military faction that deposed Nimeiri in 1985 was not distinguished by any particular political orientation, although as individuals its members maintained links with all the important social, religious, and ethnic groups. After 1985 overtures to improve economic relations with the Soviet Union met with little response.

Relations between Sudan and the Soviet Union improved markedly following Nimeiri's overthrow in 1985, but the overthrow did not result, as Khartoum had hoped, in Soviet economic assistance, but rather in a decrease in United States aid. In early 1980s, United States became principal source of aid, notably aircraft, tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery. United States aid sharply reduced in 1983 and formally terminated in 1989.

Sudan lacked a reliable source of military materiel as of 1991, even though the country faced a severe shortage of equipment and of support items. Most of its weaponry of Soviet design was more than twenty years old and could be kept operational only with the limited help provided by Libya and China. As a result, most of the Soviet tanks, artillery, missiles, and aircraft were not in serviceable condition.

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Page last modified: 19-03-2019 09:54:15 ZULU