MOSCOW — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said on a visit to Russia Thursday that his country needs protection from the U.S. and could serve as a gateway to Africa for Moscow.

Al-Bashir, speaking at the start of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, accused the U.S. of fomenting the conflict in Sudan. Al-Bashir added that “we need protection from the U.S. aggressive actions.”

The Darfur region has been the site of violent conflict since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government in the capital, Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The United Nations estimates 300,000 people have died in the conflict and some 2.7 million have fled their homes.

Al-Bashir, who rose to power in 1989, is on the International Criminal Court’s wanted list for committing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. ICC prosecutors issued two warrants for al-Bashir’s arrest, in 2009 and 2010.

Asked about it, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment, saying that Russia sees him as “the legitimate president.”

The Sudanese leader told Putin that his country could help Russia develop contacts with other African nations. “Sudan could become a key to Africa for Russia,” he said in remarks released by the Kremlin.

Al-Bashir said that he had a “very good” meeting with Russian Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu earlier Thursday to discuss modernization of the Sudanese military. “We agreed with the defense minister that Russia will offer assistance to that,” he added.

Al-Bashir noted that Sudan is concerned about the situation in the Red Sea and sees the U.S. as a problem there, adding that “we would like to discuss the issue from the point of view of the use of bases in the Red Sea.”

It wasn’t immediately clear from al-Bashir’s statement if the Sudanese leader meant to offer the Russian navy use of its facilities. Russian officials haven’t commented on the issue.

Al-Bashir said that his government is also looking forward to cooperating with Russia in oil exploration, as well as transport and agricultural sector.

Putin similarly noted good prospects for cooperation in the energy sphere. He mentioned that Sudan has been a large importer of Russian grain, voicing hope that shipments will increase.

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VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
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