Why Russia is smuggling gold from Sudan

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Russia has been smuggling gold out of Sudan for the last year and a half to compensate for economic losses due to Western sanctions over its war in Ukraine, according to Sudanese officials who spoke with CNN.

Sudanese sources recounted at least 16 Russian gold smuggling flights out of Russia in the past 18 months, including one in February in Khartoum where roughly one ton of gold was discovered hidden under colorful boxes of cookies.

The evidence found, says CNN, points to collusion between Russia and Sudan’s military leadership to enable billions of dollars in gold to bypass the Sudanese state and to deprive the country of hundreds of millions in state revenue.

One former U.S. official told CNN that Russia in exchange has provided military backing to Sudan’s military leadership and encouraged the 2021 military coup that overthrew a transitional civilian government.

“We’ve long known Russia is exploiting Sudan’s natural resources,” the person said. “In order to maintain access to those resources Russia encouraged the military coup.

“As the rest of the world closed in on [Russia], they have a lot to gain from this relationship with Sudan’s generals and from helping the generals remain in power,” the former official added. “That ‘help’ runs the gamut from training and intelligence support to jointly benefiting from Sudan’s stolen gold.”

The State Department told CNN it was monitoring the issue closely, “including the reported activities of Meroe Gold, the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, and other sanctioned actors in Sudan, the region, and throughout the gold trade.

“We support the Sudanese people in their pursuit of a democratic and prosperous Sudan that respects human rights,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue to make clear our concerns to Sudanese military officials about the malign impact of Wagner, Meroe Gold, and other actors.”

Russia’s involvement in Sudan started in 2014 when Western sanctions were implemented following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea. Wagner’s operations started in 2017 following a meeting between then Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.