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Russia Strengthens Ties with Eritrea: A Strategic Shift in the Horn of Africa

Source: shabait.com
Source: shabait.com
After lengthy negotiations with Sudan for a military base on the Red Sea, derailed by the outbreak of war, Russia turned its attention to Eritrea, a small country strategically located on the Horn of Africa, at the tail of the Sahel strip, where Russia already has conspicuous influence. 
Its Massawa naval base is even more important to Russian interests, after failure to secure access to Port Sudan and to Djibouti. At Massawa the UAE have still a 30-years lease active.
                                                                                                  Source: fondsk.ru
Eritrea, one of the few countries voting against UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, continues to demonstrate loyalty to a country whose influence in Africa is causing a significant shift in the balance of power on the continent, as an “easy” provider of weapons sales, military assistance and energy contracts.
The two countries emphasise regional stability through enhanced military cooperation, cultural exchanges and sports events, fostering people-to-people connections.  
President Afwerki’s participation in the 2nd Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg in 2023, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visits to Eritrea, and Marshal Shaposhnikov frigate’s (modernised Udaloy-class) most recent visit to Massawa highlight the strengthening of diplomatic and military ties between the two nations.
                                                                                         Source: Grey Dynamics
The Marshal Shaposhnikov arrived in Massawa on the 28th of March for a five-day stay, marking the thirtieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Eritrea, while carrying out also an unspecified joint naval exercise, presumably with outdated Soviet OSA II and obsolescing Super Dvora II Israeli missile patrol boats. The visit underscored Russia’s commitment to enhance its maritime projection.
At the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference 2024, this frigate was showcased as a modernised force multiplier of Moscow’s fleet. It has been refitted with advanced weaponry and technologies. It includes: Kalibr-NK cruise missiles for long-range precision strikes, the Kh-35 Uran (SSN-25 Switchblade) anti-ship missile system, and the Shtil-1 naval missile defence system. Additionally, it can host two helicopters, increasing its aerial surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
The arrival of this warship signifies a potential shift in the geopolitical landscape of the Horn of Africa, increasing Russian involvement in the region. This presence aligns a broader strategy of almost encircling Europe and challenging China’s PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) base in Djibouti, opened in 2017, controlling the flow of strategic goods through the Suez Canal.
The benefits to Eritrea from this alignment are clear: Russian military support (helicopters, patrol boats, trucks and small army); being an important ally in the control of essential maritime choke points and receiving energy supplies at discounted prices.

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