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  • Sirad Jafar Mohamed

Russia-Somalia Relations

The first step of Russia - Somalia relationship was taken in 1961. At that time, under the Soviet Union, Russia emphasized that it would provide support to the newly independent Somali state on many issues. Many newly independent African countries like Somalia were under the influence of the eastern and western blocs. Somalia, on the other hand, received the support of the Soviet bloc.  The first agreement in this context was on cultural cooperation between the two countries.

In the process, Russia - Somalia military cooperation agreement was signed for the first time in 1962. In the following process, some soldiers from the Somali national army were sent to Russia for military training. Thus, the Soviets became the first state to provide training to the Somali national army. During this period when the Soviet Union provided training to the Somali army and was in military cooperation with Somalia, it lent Somalia 32 billion dollars. It played an important role in the assassination of the Somali president in 1969 and the coup d'état of army commander Siyad Barre. Barre formed a new government with the support of the Soviets. The military coup was backed by a population fed up with corruption, clan conflicts and political instability.

The Soviet Union contributed to the development of the Barre government through development investments, educational scholarships and military cooperation. In the educational mobilization initiated by the Barre government, the Soviets provided scholarships to successful candidates. At the same time, these people who received education were employed in schools and hospitals opened with Soviet support. In 1969, the Soviet Union was the biggest supporter of Barre, who came to power with a coup. In 1974, a friendship treaty was signed between Somalia and Russia.

The role the Soviets wanted to play was to provide material and moral support to the anti-colonialist struggle involving the elites they had trained for the Barre government during the decolonization period. The Soviets tried to weaken the influence of the western bloc by providing money and arms to the Barre government from time to time. The government imposed martial law and repression on the population and launched an operation against Ethiopia in 1977-1978 to reclaim the Ogaden region, which had been cut off from Somalia by the colonialists. In this war, known as the Ogaden War at the time, the Barre government was initially victorious, but as a result of the Soviet support for Ethiopia, it was defeated with huge losses.  The Ogaden War, which was a turning point for Somalia, paved the way for the government to face serious losses. President Siyad Barre, angered by this Soviet policy, declared all Soviet diplomats persona non grata and expelled them from the country. In 1778, President Siyad Barre, speaking at the African Union negotiations, harshly criticized the Soviets. Having severed relations with the Soviets, the government was forced to turn its face to the West. At the same time, Somalia, which received support from countries such as Saudi Arabia, became a member of the Arab League. The government, which was in a difficult situation in 1980-1990, had problems with Soviet-trained commanders and rebel groups. In the following period, anti-government parties were formed. At the same time, protests against the Barre government and separatist groups rebelling against it intensified. The Barre government increased its pressure on the people. However, this did not bring a solution. In 1991, the Barre government collapsed and Somalia was plunged into civil war.

Today, Russia-Somalia relations are unstable. In 2016, Somali Prime Minister Jumar Abdirishid Ali Sharmarke and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov underlined the need to strengthen bilateral cooperation. Sharmarke requested support for the training of Somali soldiers in Russia. In 2018, the then Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheyre met with Russia's Prime Minister Trustee. The two leaders stated that it was important to develop Russian-Somali relations, especially in military and economic terms. In May 2023, Somalia's Foreign Minister visited Russia and stated that Russia-Somalia relations have entered a normalization process and that Russia will provide military support to Somalia during this period. However, the minister stated that Somalia has not signed any military agreement with Russia. He underlined that such a thing may be in question in the upcoming period. Somali Finance Minister Bihi Iman Jige and Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Igorevich Maksimov signed an agreement to write off Somalia's $684 million debt to Russia at the 2nd Russia-Africa Summit held on July 7-28. Speaking to the BBC Somali Service, the former Somali intelligence trustee emphasized the importance of updating Somalia's relations with Russia during this period. In particular, he stated that there should be support from Russia in operations against al-Shabab and that the Somali state should use this opportunity.  However, he added that there are many issues that need to be considered before military cooperation with Russia. The Somali government has been conducting operations against the terrorist organization al-Shabab. In these operations, Turkey provides support to the African Union Transition Mission (ATMIS) soldiers.

Somalia is located in the region called the Horn of Africa in the northeast of the African continent, where Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia are located. It has geostrategic importance as it controls the Red Sea, the global maritime trade route linking Europe, Africa and Asia. Somalia, which has the longest coastline in Africa, has a coastline of approximately 3000 km. Due to its location and coastline, it is located on the most important transit route for Middle Eastern oil. The Horn of Africa region is one of the most important transit routes in the world, stretching along the Gulf of Aden and the Bab-ul-Mandeb Strait. Somalia has been an important commercial center by building powerful empires on the Horn of Africa. The opening of the Suez Canal to international maritime traffic has made the Horn of Africa region even more important. Russia wants to take advantage of Somalia's geographical position to carry out military operations in Somalia in line with its own interests, as it has done in other African countries. As it is known, Russia has been carrying out military activities in many African countries under the name of "Wagner" paramilitary group. Russia's political rapprochement with Somalia in this period indicates that the powerful states that cooperate with Somalia want to become rivals.





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