Expert Analysis

Russia Should Consider Partnering With The UAE In The Horn Of Africa

20 MAY 2021

Russia Should Consider Partnering With The UAE In The Horn Of Africa

The Horn of Africa is arguably the most geostrategic part of the continent for the rest of the world at large so it’s only fitting that Russia crafts a comprehensive strategy for advancing its interests there, one which would become much more viable if it seriously considered partnering with the region’s de facto Emirati hegemon

The Horn Of Africa

Africa’s geostrategic significance is rising as Great Powers resume their historical scramble for influence, resources, and prestige there, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Horn of Africa. This region is arguably the most geostrategic part of the continent for the rest of the world at large given its position astride the Gulf of Aden-Red Sea (GARS) waterway connecting the Eastern Hemipshere’s maritime trade routes. It’s therefore only fitting that Russia crafts a comprehensive strategy for advancing its interests there which aligns with the model that it’s begun to experiment with across Africa, albeit of course custom tailored for the Horn of Africa’s specific context.

Background Briefing

My recent piece asking “Is Khodorkovsky Behind Claims Of Russian Death Squads In The Central African Republic” chronologically lists my 18 prior analysis over the years on Russia’s new African outreach strategy, which should be referenced by those with an interest in the topic. In particular, attention should be paid to the one about how “The Improvement Of Russian-Togolese Relations Is A Multipolar Masterstroke” since it summarizes most of what’s been going on recently. To be brief, Russia is employing a combination of “Democratic Security” programs (counter-Hybrid War tactics and strategies), strategic economic deals, and political support to bolster the viability of so-called “fragile states” and strengthen their nation-building efforts.

Challenges & Opportunities

The Horn of Africa though already has a panoply of very confident nations, most of which which live within the centrally positioned cosmopolitan state of Ethiopia that’s recently been under severe strain as a result of the incipient “Balkanization” processes inadvertently catalyzed by its new leader’s “glasnost” and “perestroika” attempts. They therefore don’t require, nor have requested, any of Russia’s “nation-building” support, though the several states comprising this region (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan) are still attractive destinations for Russian investment though provided that the Horn of Africa eventually stabilizes. That might not happen anytime soon though, yet Russia can’t wait much longer to more actively engage the region.

Russia’s Regional Entry Point

Moscow’s entry point appears to be the naval base that it plans to open in Sudan despite recent speculation about its future. With or without a military presence there though, Russia can still utilize this location to benefit from the prospective Sahelian-Saharan Silk Road that China might eventually advance as part of its worldwide Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) upon the end of the global economic crisis brought about by the world’s uncoordinated attempts to contain COVID-19 (“World War C”). Chad’s recent security challenges following the unexpected killing of its long-serving leader at the front lines of its latest war with rebel groups might further delay this project’s implementation, hence the need for Russia to diversify its regional economic outreaches.

The Prospects For Ethiopian Engagement

Ethiopia is therefore an exciting prospect and close historical ties support this possible direction of Russian policy, but there’s immense competition with China and the GCC so Moscow would need to find a suitable niche from which to establish its influence there. Interest exists on both sides since each aspires to improve their respective balancing acts via the other, but not much of tangible significance has occurred. Statements of intent are positive signs, but they aren’t anything substantive. Both sides should therefore urgently set up working groups at the intergovernmental and entrepreneurial levels to explore this more seriously. If successful, then more trade, security, and closer political ties would be mutually beneficial and also help the larger region.

Relegating The Rest Of The Region

Speaking of which, Russian engagement with the other three countries – Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia – remains minimal, which is unfortunate. They, too, are under a lot of external influence and have recently become scenes of intense rivalry between various powers, especially Somalia which is the scene of competition between Turkey and Qatar on one side and the UAE on the other. The latter engages mostly with the breakaway region of Somaliland, among the most stable and successful places on the continent despite its de facto independence being unrecognized. Closer Russian-Emirati coordination in recent years might in theory provide some openings to Moscow in that region, but it still remains to be seen whether it has the political will to engage Somaliland.

The (South) Yemeni Dimension

Regarding the UAE, Russia could also utilize its newfound ties with that country to expand its influence in Yemen, which can unofficially be regarded as a Horn of Africa country for strategic purposes. More specifically, Russia might revive its historical ties with the UAE-backed South Yemeni separatist movement, not necessarily in support of their independence agenda, but for practical reasons related to Moscow’s broader interests in the Horn of Africa region. Again, this would require political will to risk provoking the ire of its internationally recognized government just like it would Somalia’s in the event of engaging UAE-backed Somaliland, but this possible vector should be more closely studied by Russian strategists to assess the range of its pros and cons.

The Pros & Cons Of Engaging With The Emirates

Upon contemplating this, an intriguing possibility begins to emerge, and that’s of Russia partnering more closely with the UAE in the Horn of Africa in order to proverbially “piggyback” off of its recent strategic successes there. Observers have positivenegative, and neutral views of the UAE’s grand strategic vision, particularly in the Horn of Africa, which should also be considered by Russian experts before deciding whether to move ahead with this or not. Should they end up doing so, then it might be a game-changing development since the impact of a prospective Russian-Emirati Strategic Partnership in the Horn of Africa region could improve the viability of both players’ comprehensive engagement there.

From Mutual To Multilateral Benefits

For example, they’re each formidable military players in their own right, whether with respect to their conventional or unconventional (i.e. “mercenary”) forces, and each could entrench themselves in different economic niches in select countries like Ethiopia or their subregions such as Somaliland and South Yemen. Russia and the UAE also have different networks of partnerships across the world and particularly in Africa, so coming closer together could end up being multilaterally beneficial as well provided that they coordinate their respective visions. Nevertheless, closer Russian-Emirati ties might upset Turkey, which is expanding its influence in the Horn of Africa (specifically Somalia) and the rest of Africa more broadly, but should be manageable.

Concluding Thoughts

What’s basically needed is a breakthrough for accelerating and expanding Russia’s outreaches in the Horn of Africa region. Bilateral efforts with certain countries like Sudan and Ethiopia have failed to reap thus far apart from a possible naval base deal in Port Sudan, hence the proposal for considering a strategic partnership with the UAE, one that would imply closer engagement with the Emirates’ partners in Somaliland and South Yemen. Russia needs to objectively assess its capabilities and realize that closer ties with the Horn of Africa require regional modifications to the strategy that it’s presently employing in other parts of the continent. Moscow might not be able to do much on its own, but together with Abu Dhabi, they might make a major impact.



By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Russia, UAE, Horn Of Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen, South Yemen, Balancing.




Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

Expert Analysis

The Geopolitical Impact Of The ‘Israeli’-Emirati Alliance Will Be Felt In Africa

The Geopolitical Impact Of The ‘Israeli’-Emirati Alliance Will Be Felt In Africa



The misleadingly described “peace” deal between “Israel” and the UAE will enable the self-professed “Jewish State” to use the latter’s military and civilian port infrastructure in the Gulf of Aden, thus challenging recent Turkish inroads in this part of the world and allowing Tel Aviv to project itself as a trans-regional power of significance, especially in East Africa and eventually everywhere else on the continent too.

From Diplomatic “Peace” To Military Partnership

Israel” and the UAE finally formalized their hitherto not-so-secret ties earlier this week after agreeing to a misleadingly described “peace” deal brokered by the US. The author recently explained the regional strategic and soft power dividends that the self-professed “Jewish State” hopes to achieve through this development in his piece about how “The US-Brokered Mideast ‘Peace’ Deals Aren’t What They Seem”, so this present piece will therefore discuss its most likely trans-regional geopolitical dividends. The UAE commands a vast empire of military and civilian ports across the world, but the most important jewels in its crown are found in the Gulf of Aden region, specifically in Eritrea, South Yemen (including the strategic Socotra Islands), and the internationally unrecognized Somali breakaway region of Somaliland. It’s therefore predicted that “Israel” will soon have access to these facilities for the purpose of projecting itself as a trans-regional power of significance.

Containing” Turkey

Although Turkey hasn’t withdrawn its decades-long recognition of “Israel”, President Erdogan has recently presented himself as the most high-profile supporter of the Palestinians. He’s also at odds with the UAE since the Gulf State fears his ideological alliance with its Muslim Brotherhood foes, especially those based in nearby Qatar. For this reason, both “Israel” and the UAE have vested interests in “containing” the spread of Turkish influence, which they can attempt to do in East Africa by combining their military and other potential in and around the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint following their mutual recognition of each other. It’s unclear how this would play out in practice, but there’s no denying the impact that a more visible “Israeli” military presence in the UAE’s relevant ports would have on changing the regional narrative in all respects. If anything, it would at the very least boost “Israeli” prestige, both at home and in the targeted region, especially the African hinterland where the self-professed “Jewish State” has been silently expanding its influence over the past decade.

The African Angle

To explain, “Israel” already has considerable influence in East Africa, especially in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. It naturally follows that it would like to expand its reach to the littoral region along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in order to entrench its influence in this larger space, hence the need for more closely cooperating with the UAE to that end. “Israel” and Eritrea already have relations with one another, but the UAE is the latter’s dominant partner since it uses its territory for waging the War on Yemen. The self-professed “Jewish State” can now “piggyback” on the its official ally’s military gains there to do the same, just like in South Yemen and Somaliland. Taken together, the military dimensions of the “Israeli”-Emirati alliance perfectly complement the diplomatic and economic (agricultural, electrical hydrologicaltelecommunication) influence that it’s already established to solidify its sway. The only “holdouts” are Sudan, which is already under the UAE’s influence after its military coup, tiny Djibouti, and Somalia, the last of which hosts a Turkish base.

Cultivating UN Support On The Continent

“Israel’s” trans-regional strategy with the UAE, using the Gulf of Aden as its springboard for expanding influence into Africa, is therefore twofold. Firstly, it hopes to “contain” Turkish influence in this part of the world, and secondly, it wants to leverage its predicted gains to recruit more diplomatic allies in the UN. That global body’s resolutions are superficial since they lack any enforcement mechanism, but they’re still an impressive soft power tool for shaping perceptions. Since the UAE is becoming more active in the African hinterland, both on its own independent initiative and to counter Turkish influence there, “Israel” hopes to combine their efforts to turn targeted states away from the Turks and towards the “Israeli”-Emirati alliance instead. Incentives such as loans and investments (in the earlier described spheres) could basically buy off corrupt governments there who have little to lose by siding with those two since it’s extremely unlikely that voting in support of “Israel” at the UN will set off a pro-Palestinian Color Revolution anywhere on the continent.

Concluding Thoughts

Many commentators have already extensively discussed the implications of “Israel” and the UAE’s mutual recognition on Mideast geopolitics, but few other than the author have asked what the future holds for Africa in this respect. The UAE is already the predominant power in the interconnected Horn of Africa-Gulf of Aden region, so it naturally follows that its “Israeli” ally will “piggyback” off of gains there to combine them with its existing accomplishments in the East African hinterland. Together, “Israel” and the UAE might pool their efforts in order to seriously challenge Turkish influence on the continent, which has been spreading over the past decade despite most foreign observers being unaware of this fact except when it comes to North Africa. The overarching trend is that foreign powers — which include “Israel”, the UAE, and Turkey, but also the US, France, India, Russia, and China — are increasingly “scrambling” for Africa in order to improve their grand strategic prospects in the emerging Multipolar World Order, and it’s only a matter of time before they clash.


American political analyst

Tags: Israel, UAE, Turkey, Africa, Horn of Africa, Yemen, South Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland, East Africa.