U.S. sanctions companies supplying RSF with drones
Former Foreign Minister Ali Karti also hit with penalties
The United States Treasury Department today announced financial sanctions against a Russian company, Aviatrade LLC, and a Sudanese company, GSK Advance Company Ltd, which have supplied drones to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The RSF are mostly using drones for surveillance purposes, whereas the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) are also actively carrying out strikes using light armed drones. The video above shows an armed drone that crashed or was shot down in Sudan recently.
In a press release, the U.S. Treasury said that the companies have engaged in “actions that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Sudan.”
U.S. sanctions can make it harder (though not impossible) for sanctioned companies to do business worldwide because of the major role of the U.S. dollar in international trade and banking. Sanctions announcements also are intended to send political signals, conveying the stance of the United States government. Today’s announcement was noteworthy in cracking down only on the RSF supply chain for drones—not the SAF one, which Ukraine recently claimed to be involved in.
However, the Treasury Department also sanctioned Ali Karti, the leader of the Sudanese Islamic Movement, linked to the former ruling National Islamic Front (National Congress Party), and a former foreign minister under Omar al-Bashir.
“He and other former regime officials are now obstructing efforts to reach a ceasefire between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, mobilizing forces to enable continued fighting, and opposing Sudanese civilian efforts to resume Sudan’s stalled democratic transition,” said U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The Russian company Aviatrade, headquartered in Izhevsk, is a military supply company that arranged “the procurement of parts and supplies, as well as training, for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) previously purchased by the RSF.”
The other company, GSK, “is ostensibly a Sudan-based information technology and security company run by influential members of Sudanese security forces. In fact, GSK has been used as a procurement channel for the RSF.” The United Kingdom government already sanctioned GSK in July, saying it was an RSF “front company” controlled by Abdelrahim Dagalo, the brother of the head of the RSF.
The relationship between Aviatrade and the RSF predates the war but it has continued. The U.S. Treasury revealed in its announcement, “As of late 2020, GSK worked with Aviatrade, a Russia-based military supply company, to arrange the procurement of parts and supplies, as well as training, for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) previously purchased by the RSF. As of mid-2023, the RSF used GSK to facilitate additional purchases from Aviatrade, including monitoring equipment and spare parts.”
Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. official at the National Security Council and former CIA officer, commented on the sanctions in a post on the micro-blogging site Twitter. He described the measures as appropriate but “incremental.” He said he was surprised that more figures linked to the Sudan Armed Forces weren’t sanctioned, explaining, “Karti's designation is the result of a months-long lobbying effort that included as many as a dozen Islamists officials. The fact that only Karti was sanctioned tells me that the US could not prove sufficiently to itself the extent of Islamist influence.”
Hudson added, “This strikes me as a case of underpromising and underdelivering. The expected list of those to be sanctioned was rumored to be much longer and include SAF elements. People will view this announcement as, once again, targeting more the RSF and protecting/siding with SAF. I don’t think that is the intent but it leaves open that interpretation.”
“The designation of one RSF company and one Russian company is a two-for-one deal. There's a lot of talk about capacity constraints within OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control)—not enough people to do sanctions investigations and too many Russia targets that are the real priority of the Administration. These entities look like a convenient way to satisfy the demand for Russia targets, more than Sudanese targets. Shows me where the priority truly is.”
For its part, the Sudan Armed Forces have continued to release some videos of drone strikes through unofficial channels, including pro-SAF influencers.
Citing Ukrainian intelligence sources, CNN recently reported that Ukrainian special services were “likely” involved in carrying out drone strikes against RSF targets in Khartoum and Omdurman, describing the Sudanese paramilitary group as a “Wagner-backed” group. Analysts on our team, however, have doubted the Ukrainian claim, believing it could be false or exaggerated, intended to harm Wagner’s reputation in Africa. Sudan’s domestic arms industry is capable of making light armed drones itself, and there is some evidence it is doing so.
In an interview with Voice of America on September 23, the Head of the Ukrainian Military Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov neither confirmed nor denied the CNN report about the alleged involvement of Ukrainian in drone attacks in Sudan. At the same time, he added that Ukraine will act against its enemies “at any place on the globe.”
The drones strikes that CNN reported (which included some strikes already geolocated by open-source researchers working with Sudan War Monitor) were carried out by ‘kamikaze’ drones that fly into a target and explode on impact.
These strikes were therefore different from SAF’s earlier drone strikes, which involved dropping grenades or light mortar shells on targets.
In a related development, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Sudan’s Commander-in-Chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan during an ostensibly “unscheduled” meeting at an Irish airport on September 23, while both men were traveling back home after the recent UN General Assembly meetings held in New York.
In a statement, Zelensky said, “I am grateful for Sudan's consistent support of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We discussed common security challenges, namely the activities of illegal armed groups financed by Russia.”
Of course, Sudan has not been a “consistent supporter” of Ukraine’s sovereignty. It abstained from a UN vote in April 2022 condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it has maintained close ties with Russia. Malik Agar, al-Burhan’s deputy on the Transitional Sovereignty Council, visited Russia in June, and al-Burhan himself met with Russia’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
After that meeting, Sudan’s state information service, SUNA, reported that “the meeting touched bilateral relations between Sudan and Russia and ways to revitalize joint cooperation relations between them. …Al-Burhan praised the role that Russia continued to play in helping Sudan and supporting peace and stability there.”
Nevertheless, Zelensky sought to portray the Sudanese as a prospective ally, saying , “I invited (al-Burhan) to support the Grain From Ukraine initiative and take part in this year's summit. We considered possible platforms for intensifying cooperation between Ukraine and African countries.”
Sudan War Monitor is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.