A video confirms fighting between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers in Sudan

Special forces sent by Kyiv are conducting operations in the African country against rebel militias backed by Wagner mercenaries

Guerra de Rusia en Ucrania
The remnants of Rapid Support Forces paramilitary militia vehicles after a clash with Sudan's regular army in Khartoum on April 18.Omer Erdem (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Cristian Segura

A video confirmed on Tuesday that Ukraine and Russia have taken their war to Africa. Posted by the Kyiv Post, the video shows a group of Ukrainian special forces after an assault on a rebel position; several corpses appear, as well as a shot Russian military vehicle. The video also shows two African servicemen and a Russian soldier taken prisoner. The latter answers the Ukrainians’ questions and identifies himself. The prisoner claims that he is one of 100 Wagner group mercenaries who traveled from their base in the Central African Republic to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The Russian serviceman confirms that their goal is to overthrow the country’s government.

Kyiv Post reports that the Ukrainians in Sudan belong to the Timur special forces group, a team under the Defense Ministry’s Intelligence Services, the GUR. As a GUR officer who specializes in infiltrating behind Russian lines told EL PAÍS this week, on the condition of anonymity, they are recruiting volunteers who are willing to fight in Sudan. According to this source, doing so is risky because they are covert operations that are not officially supported by any institution.

The Ukrainian serviceman interrogating the Russian soldier in the video has an African soldier by his side who also serves as his interpreter. The two African prisoners are blindfolded with yellow duct tape, one of the colors Ukrainian units use to identify themselves in the war against the Russian invasion.

As early as September 2023, a video appeared on CNN showing two drone bombs attacking the positions of Rapid Support Forces and Wagner rebel units in Sudan. Unnamed sources in Kyiv told U.S. television that their Armed Forces were behind the operation. Last November, Kyiv Post posted a drone-recorded video of an alleged GUR attack on several buildings with Russian soldiers and rebel militias inside.

In September 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with the President of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s ruler following a coup d’état, in Ireland. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov was also present at the meeting. The Ukrainian executive’s statement after they met emphasized that the two leaders discussed security issues and the presence of Wagner’s mercenaries in Sudan.

Since the beginning of 2023, when the new civil war in Sudan began, U.S. intelligence services have been warning of Wagner’s increased involvement in that African nation in order to gain access to the mining sector. Wagner’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash in August 2023, after threatening a coup against Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Since then, the Russian state has closely controlled Wagner.

The Ukrainian government has stepped up its diplomacy with Africa to gain support on the continent, and especially to limit the Kremlin’s influence among developing countries. Of the 35 countries that abstained from voting on the March 2022 U.N. resolution condemning the Russian invasion, 17 were African.

Last November, at a press conference with African media, Zelenskiy stressed that his country wants to be a strategic partner on the continent, in contrast to Russia’s “colonial ambitions.” New embassies have been opened, and bilateral agreements have been signed in recent months. But Kyiv does not officially acknowledge having participated in any military activities in Sudan.

At the end of 2022, the GUR had already contemplated infiltrating Syria and attacking the Russian troops supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as stated in U.S. intelligence documents leaked to The Washington Post in April 2023. The plan envisaged acting alongside anti-Assad Kurdish forces. Zelenskiy, these documents claimed, was the one who put the brakes on the operation. The GUR, commanded by Kyrylo Budanov, is also responsible for sabotaging strategic infrastructure on Russian soil.

In recent weeks, the media and defense think tanks have reported an increased number of Russian forces in Africa. The OSW, a Polish institute for the study of security policy, stated in a January 31 report that a new Russian unit called Africa Corps, under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense, already has troops in Burkina Faso and anticipates that they will be in Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Niger in the future. According to OSW reports, the goal is for the Africa Corps to have 20,000 soldiers, a figure difficult to achieve because Wagner, which has been in these countries for years, only has about 7,000 mercenaries at the moment.

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