US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Yemen will meet with Saudi officials this week in the latest round of diplomatic talks to resolve the years-long war. Since Biden took office, the US administration has increased mediation efforts between both countries while easing sanctions on the Iran-backed Houthis.
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.
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 (“WorldWarC”). 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 recentstrategicsuccessesthere. Observers have positive, negative, 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.
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.
Iran is looking to persuade its regional rival Saudi Arabia to help it to sell Iranian crude oil on international markets in exchange for limiting attacks from the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen on Saudi oil infrastructure. Until the sanctions slapped on Iran’s oil exports by U.S. are in place, Iran is looking for alternatives to have its oil sold on the international markets.
The world must urgently act to relieve the Yemeni people’s years-long suffering in the midst of what the UN previously described as the planet’s worst humanitarian crisis, but this will require difficult compromises on the side of each warring party and their international supporters (both military and political ones alike), though all stakeholders can hopefully learn from the recent progress in peacefully resolving the Afghan War to bravely pioneer a new diplomatic track for bringing this about.
An Incomplete Peace Push
The Yemeni people continue to suffer in the midst of what the UN previously described as the planet’s worst humanitarian crisis, which shows no signs of improving anytime soon considering recent back-and-forth strikes by the Ansarullah rebels and Saudi Arabia against one another. Difficult compromises are required on the side of each warring party and their international supporters (both military and political ones alike), particularly the need for them to acknowledge the impossibility of achieving their envisaged maximalist outcomes. The Ansarullah will never control the entirety of Yemen, nor will the Saudi-led coalition succeed in militarily restoring the writ of internationally recognized President Hadi’s government over the northern reaches of the country. Against this backdrop, the Saudis’ renewed peace push in Yemen is certainly welcome, but it’s nevertheless incomplete. What’s crucially required is for all stakeholders to learn from the recent progress in peacefully resolving the Afghan War so as to bravely pioneer a new diplomatic track towards lasting peace.
The Afghan Antecedent
The past week saw Moscow host another round of peace talks that resulted in a promising joint statement which indicated each party’s willingness to continue negotiations towards the end result of an inclusive government. Russia’s diplomatic efforts complement Qatar’s as well as the upcoming US-proposed talks that are slated to be hosted in Istanbul next month. What these tracks have in common is that neutral parties are facilitating meaningful dialogue between the warring sides and other stakeholders in the conflict. In the Yemeni context, this excludes the GCC, the US, and Iran from hosting such talks considering that the first-mentioned is an active participant in the war, the second supporters the former, and the latter politically backs the Ansarullah rebels. As such, other states with positive relations with all parties must step up to the plate to propose hosting peace talks between the warring sides and stakeholders, with the most viable among them arguably being Russia and Pakistan.
A Russian-Pakistani Peace Push?
I wrote back in October 2019 that “Pakistan & Russia Might Hold The Keys To Iranian-Saudi Peace” after each of their leaders embarked on trips to the region around the same time as tensions were spiking between the two Gulf powers. No progress was achieved, whether individually or jointly, though Pakistan and Russia’s relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia continued to improve in the year and a half since. Moreover, intensified Pakistani-Russian diplomatic coordination in peacefully resolving the Afghan War has resulted in a newfound surge of trust between these two Old Cold War-era rivals which has served to accelerate their ongoing rapprochement. It would therefore be a natural extension of their evolving relationship, particularly in light of the progress that they’ve achieved in Afghanistan thus far, to consider the possibility of jointly proposing to host Yemeni peace talks in their respective capitals. This could solidify their rising diplomatic roles in becoming indispensable solutions to some of the world’s most seemingly intractable conflicts like Afghanistan.
Moscow already seems to be considering something of the sort with respect to Yemen after hosting the Southern Transitional Council (STC) last month while Islamabad’s offer of mediating between Riyadh and Tehran remains open, the latter of which can be indirectly accomplished by hosting Yemeni talks. Even if those two don’t get involved in the proposed peace process, it’s still important for a neutral state to host such negotiations, though it should preferably one with extensive experience in this field. Any random country wouldn’t suffice, and while the Europeans might be interested in playing this role, it’s unlikely that the Ansarullah and their Iranian political supporters would trust them. Observers should also remember that the Iranian nuclear deal hangs over the heads of every Western diplomat, and Tehran might suspect that this issue could be exploited throughout the course of Yemeni peace talks in a way that could put further pressure upon the Islamic Republic. By contrast, the Ansarullah and Iran don’t have the same concerns with Russia or Pakistan.
In any case, the proposed diplomatic track should first focus on immediately lifting the Saudi blockade of Yemen irrespective of whichever country or countries host this new process. It’s the continued imposition of that crippling blockade that provokes the Ansarullah into asymmetrically responding to Saudi Arabia through drone strikes, which in turn prompt reprisal attacks against them, the latter of which target economic and humanitarian infrastructure like grain silos as part of what many have compellingly claimed is the Kingdom’s genocidal war against its southern neighbor. On the topic of back-and-forth strikes, a ceasefire must also be negotiated in parallel with lifting the blockade in order to put an end to this destabilizing tit-for-tat and thus relieve the Yemeni people’s suffering. The other pressing issues that would eventually have to be addressed are the fate of the internationally recognized Hadi government and the final political status of South Yemen, which aspires to regain its independence.
A Federal Compromise
Once again, difficult compromises are required. Concerning the first of these two associated issues crucial to the long-term viability of any political solution to the conflict, the only pragmatic outcome might be the interim federalization of the country between its warring sides along the line of control as it exists at the moment of the ceasefire. The Ansarullah-controlled north would largely remain de facto independent while the south would remain de facto controlled by the STC but nominally under Hadi’s sway. The finer details of this arrangement – such as defense, taxes, parliamentary composition, travel between the two de facto internally partitioned halves, and so on – could be worked out later. What’s most important right now is to freeze the state of military-political affairs as it currently exists considering the near-impossibility of altering it by force and how unacceptable the humanitarian consequences of such a move would be for the average Yemeni who’s already been suffering worse than anyone else in the world for over six years already.
The Democratic Restoration Of South Yemen
As for the second of these associated issues, the only fair solution rests in allowing the South Yemenis to exercise their UN-enshrined right to democratic self-determination under a free and fair referendum, the timeline of which could be determined throughout the final stages of the peace process. On that topic, the key question is whether a majority vote throughout the lands of the former Democratic Republic of South Yemen should suffice for granting the entirety of that territory independence or if its peripheral regions that might not agree with this outcome should reserve the right to remain within the proposed Federal Yemen while the democratic secessionists regain part of their historic state. Of course, the internationally recognized Hadi government will probably oppose this pragmatic proposal since it almost certainly stands to lose its power, at least insofar as its nominal control of Aden goes, but his Saudi patrons must do their utmost to convince him that his purpose should be to serve as an interim leader in the run-up to this referendum.
Southern Scenario Forecast
Prognosticating that the outcome will see at least some geographic part of the former Democratic Republic of South Yemen opt for independence (most likely Aden and its immediate surroundings), the Hadi government would then have to relocate to whatever “loyalist” regions might remain, though provided of course that the pertinent peace agreement allows for regions that don’t vote for independence to stay within the proposed Federal Yemen and not automatically join the restored South Yemen. With this likely scenario in mind, it’s therefore advisable to include such a clause in any prospective peace agreement in order to avoid stoking the fire for a secondary conflict within a newly independent South Yemen between Aden and the peripheral regions that might have voted against joining the revived state. This option could also give the Hadi government a political future, though of course only if those people who would nominally remain under its writ accept its authority. In all likelihood, however, Hadi and his ilk might realize that it’s better to retire from political life if that happens and let the remnants of Federal Yemen democratically choose another leader.
The path to peace in Yemen is long, hard, and full of difficult compromises, but it can still be charted so long as the warring sides and their international supporters (both military and political) have the will to do what’s needed for the sake of the suffering Yemeni masses. Maximalist outcomes are impossible to attain at this point, and any continued push in that direction by either party is fraught with unacceptable humanitarian consequences. What’s required at this moment is for the involved stakeholders to learn from the recent progress in peacefully resolving the Afghan War and seriously consider the diplomatic involvement of neutral third parties like Pakistan and Russia to jump-start this process through the use of their mediation services between all direct and indirect parties to the conflict. The most immediate objective is to simultaneously lift the blockade and agree to a new ceasefire, after which plenty of thought must be put into the South Yemeni dimension of any political solution in order for it to be truly sustainable.
President Joe Biden announced the United States was ending support for a grinding five-year Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen. The assurance is seen as part of an effort to persuade Saudi Arabia and other combatants to end the conflict overall. However, the ending of US support for the offensive will not affect any US operations against the Yemen-based al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.
Several explosions rocked Yemen’s Aden airport as new power-sharing government officials arrived from Saudi Arabia. The bombs killed roughly 22 people and injured dozens more. Saudi Arabia jumped to place blame on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, however, the group has not claimed responsibility as of late.
A ship was hit by an explosion at the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah. The incident comes just three weeks after an oil tanker was damaged at the Saudi terminal of Shuqaiq and Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed a missile strike on a Saudi Aramco fuel depot in Jeddah. Tensions in the area have risen as the U.S., a Saudi ally, ramps up sanctions on Iran, which backs the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war.
The Geopolitical Impact Of The ‘Israeli’-Emirati Alliance Will Be Felt In Africa
17 SEPTEMBER 2020
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.
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, andRwanda. 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 hydrological, telecommunication)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-PalestinianColor Revolutionanywhere on the continent.
Many commentators have already extensively discussed the implications of “Israel” and the UAE’s mutual recognition on Mideast geopolitics,but fewother than the author have asked what the future holds for Africa in this respect. The UAE is already thepredominant powerin 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, andChina— are increasingly “scrambling” for Africa in order to improve their grand strategic prospects in theemerging Multipolar World Order, and it’s only a matter of time before they clash.