AS a foreign affairs writer, I’m often asked one particular question. Why is it that we should care when some far-flung crisis erupts that appears to have little bearing on our own lives? It’s an understandable take, given that there’s no shortage of political and economic issues to contend with right here on our doorstep.

But for a nation that has always prided itself on its internationalist outlook and credentials, it’s something of a disappointment when I hear some fellow Scots dismiss the travails of a people in some distant land as not worthy of our attention.

Which brings me to the crisis gripping Sudan right now. Why does it matter? Why should we care? Why spend even a moment thinking about it when here in Scotland we have our own challenges at the hands of a rapacious Tory government or watching our own hopes for independence take a bruising?

Well, to begin with, the simple answer as to why what is happening in Sudan matters, has to do with empathy. It’s four years ago, almost to the day, that the people of Sudan were celebrating a revolution after overthrowing long-term dictator President Omar al-Bashir.

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Now this giant East African country, the third largest on the continent, faces the possibility of a complete collapse and civil war because greedy, power-hungry men have stomped upon the needs and wishes of the Sudanese people.

The two men in question, each in charge of different parts of the security apparatus, are now in open warfare. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the army and de facto ruler, has ordered the dissolution of the Rapid Support Forces (SF) run by his deputy, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti.

Let’s be clear here – neither of these men are the good guys, as far as the Sudanese people’s hopes for democracy are concerned. That in itself is sufficient reason to empathise with Sudan’s long-suffering citizens. Any people who manage to shake off the shackles of dictatorship only to see their hopes dashed yet again by avaricious megalomaniacs is deserving of our support.

As long-term scholar of Sudan Alex De Waal recently observed, Hemedti’s career “is an object lesson in political entrepreneurship by a specialist in violence”.

Both Hemedti and his now rival al-Burhan played key roles in the counterinsurgency against Darfuri rebels in the civil war in Sudan’s western region in which 300,000 people were killed and millions of others displaced in fighting from 2003 to 2008.

While former president al-Bashir and other top Sudanese officials have been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for what happened in Darfur, al-Burhan and Hemedti have not.

This despite the fact that Hemedti was commander of one of the many Arab militias, collectively known as the Janjaweed, which the government employed to brutally put down the largely non-Arab Darfuri rebel groups.

That same Janjaweed now forms a substantial part of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – another reason why what is happening in Sudan should concern us all, given the potential for yet more widespread serious human rights abuses.

But there are other reasons too why this rapidly escalating crisis should be the subject of global attention. Not least of these is its capacity to spread far beyond Sudan’s borders as neighbouring countries and beyond, with vested and often nefarious interests, take sides with either al-Burhan or Hemedti in what is already a proxy war, aimed at protecting their stake in resource-rich Sudan.

Already the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have backed the military government, with the former close to Hemedti. Sudanese troops drawn from the army and the RSF have fought alongside the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s long-running civil war. Egypt, meanwhile, also has deep ties with the Sudanese military.

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The two armies conduct regular war games, most recently this month before the current fighting erupted, and Cairo remains a strong supporter of al-Burhan.

But there are yet other reasons why outside players are involved – notably Russia.

During the decades-long rule of the dictator al-Bashir, who was deposed in 2019, Russia was a dominant force and at one point, Moscow reached an initial deal to build a naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. In other words, this is a country which provides the Russian military with a strategic location.

As recently as February, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to finalise a 25-year lease for a Russian base housing up to 300 troops and four warships in Port Sudan on the Red Sea the main conduit for Western trade and oil flows. This Russia achieved in return for supplying arms to Sudan.

PERHAPS even more significantly, today Russia’s interests are also represented by the notorious Wagner mercenary group, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Wagner’s stock in trade when not sending mercenaries to the frontlines in Ukraine is using its military muscle to squeeze money out of Africa’s natural resources.

In terms of Sudan, oil, gold, iron ore, copper, tungsten, chromium ore and zinc are all available in what is considered one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources. Prigozhin is said to own a Sudanese gold company and reportedly has ties to Hemedti’s own extensive gold operations in Darfur.

According to Joana de Deus Pereira, senior research fellow at think tank the Royal United Services Institute Europe, Wagner has been protecting mining sites linked to M-Invest and Meroe Gold, which data suggests belong to Prigozhin affiliated companies. In exchange for the protection of the sites, Wagner has been granted profits from the concessions. Meroe and M Invest have been sanctioned by both the US and EU.

So, there you have it. The Sudanese people’s hopes for democracy crushed for now. The potential for a full-blown civil war and the colossal humanitarian fallout that would undoubtedly inflict. A resource-rich country that Russia is using to help fill up its financial war chest for its war in Ukraine. And, depending on the outcome of this power struggle between the al-Burhan and Hemedti, Moscow is almost certainly going to keep its strategic presence in Sudan, putting pressure on Western oil and trade supplies.

Yes, Sudan and its crisis might seem far away, but it has the capacity to impact in a way and on a scale most people can scarcely begin to imagine. That’s why what is happening right now in this far-off African country really does matter.