Days after Moscow launched its bloody war on Ukraine, a Russian cargo plane stood on a Khartoum runway, a strip of tarmac surrounded by red-orange sand. The aircraft’s manifest stated it was loaded with cookies. Sudan rarely, if ever, exports cookies.
A heated debate transpired between officials in a back office of Khartoum International Airport. They feared that inspecting the plane would vex the country’s increasingly pro-Russian military leadership. Multiple previous attempts to intercept suspicious Russian carriers had been stopped. Ultimately, however, the officials decided to board the plane.
Inside the hold, colorful boxes of cookies stretched out before them. Hidden just beneath were wooden crates of Sudan’s most precious resource. Gold. Roughly one ton of it.
This incident in February — recounted by multiple official Sudanese sources to CNN — is one of at least 16 known Russian gold smuggling flights out of Sudan, Africa’s third largest producer of the precious metal, over the last year and a half.
Multiple interviews with high-level Sudanese and US officials and troves of documents reviewed by CNN paint a picture of an elaborate Russian scheme to plunder Sudan’s riches in a bid to fortify Russia against increasingly robust Western sanctions and to buttress Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine.
The evidence also suggests that Russia has colluded with Sudan’s beleaguered military leadership, enabling billions of dollars in gold to bypass the Sudanese state and to deprive the poverty-stricken country of hundreds of millions in state revenue.
In exchange, Russia has lent powerful political and military backing to Sudan’s increasingly unpopular military leadership as it violently quashes the country’s pro-democracy movement. [Continue reading…]