December 16, 2018

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visits Syria - on a Russian Air Force jet

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir
at Damascus International Airport

With his arrival at Damascus International Airport today, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir ('Umar al-Bashir - عمر حسن أحمد البشير - becomes the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011.

It is interesting that al-Bashir is the first Arab leader to visit - the Sudanese president is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC); warrants have been issued for his arrest. The charges include genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. The charges are opposed by the African Union, the League of Arab States, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the governments of Russia and China.

The irony of the visit by an indicted war criminal was not lost on some observers. Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of United Nations Watch quipped, "Always nice when a president wanted for genocide visits with a president committing genocide. Sudan sits on the UN committee overseeing human rights [nongovernmental organizations]; Syria holds leadership position on UN decolonization committee that fights 'subjugation of peoples.'"

I draw your attention to the photograph (above) of the two presidents at the airport. Note the color pattern on the jet used to transport al-Bashir from Khartoum to Damascus - it is the official livery of the BBC России (Russian Air Force), as noted on the tail of the aircraft.

The Russians dispatched this TU-154M (RA-85155) VIP transport aircraft from Moscow to Khartoum (via the Russian air base at Humaymim, south of the Syrian port city of Latakia) to pick up al-Bashir, fly him to Damascus, wait for him to have his meetings with Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Asad, then return him to Khartoum.

This fits in with Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to increase Russian influence in the Middle East and Africa. Putin and al-Bashir have met on at least two occasions in the last year to discuss continued and increased cooperation. Russia is the major supplier of arms to the Khartoum government. On both of those occasions, like today, Putin sent a Russian Air Force jet to ensure al-Bashir's safety while traveling out of Sudan, keeping him out of reach of the ICC.

The visit of an indicted war criminal does raise the question: Will Bashar al-Asad be held accountable for his war crimes?

On a lighter note, let's not feel sorry for the Russian pilots and crew tasked with this long VIP transportation mission. The weather in Moscow today was 5 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing. Damascus was party cloudy and 60 degrees, while Khartoum was sunny and 90 degrees.