9 December 2017

Ethiopia: No Worries If Russia Opens Base in Eritrea - U.S. Official

Photo: Al-Jazeera
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The official affirmed that his government would continue working on their mutual interests

At a time when western powers are vying to open a military base in the Horn of Africa, a high official of the United States (US), in a press briefing held last Friday, signalled that his government would not have a problem if Russia opened a military base in Eritrea.

This transpires amidst the growing concern of Ethiopia over the influence of Gulf countries in the Horn of Africa.

Although unsure about the intentions of the Russians, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto, affirmed that his government would continue working on their mutual interests even if Russia proceeds to open a base in Eritrea.

The speech was made during a press briefing held at the US Embassy in the presence of journalists from local as well international media outlets and current US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor. The press conference was conducted just a day after he visited Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on December 7,2017.

Eritrea- whose capital is located 702Km from Addis Abeba- has two main ports: Massawa and Assab, both of which are strategically situated to connect Gulf countries with Europe.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have military bases in Assab- a vantage point to fight the Houthis in Yemen. The latter and Turkey have a base in Somalia.

Yamamoto pinpointed that the most important issue is working on a large number of coordinated issues on investment development even with Russia - which has no military base in the Horn of Africa.

He also cited the case in Somalia where Turkey, UAE and the European Union are making efforts to resolve issues related to security reforms.

"These aren't in isolation," said Yamamoto, who was US ambassador to Djibouti and Ethiopia as well an interim to Eritrea. "We maintain very close contact with all of these countries."

Yamamoto's visit to Kenya, Somalia, and Rwanda emerges four months after the opening of China's military base in Djibouti.

Although China says the base serves as a logistics facility, many countries including the US- which pays over 60 million dollars for its base in Djibouti- does not seem convinced of the country's claim, according to the BBC.

Despite the attempt of China and many Gulf countries to gain a foothold, Russia- an ally of US- chose to remain silent.

"Trends show that Russia does not see the Horn of Africa as a top geopolitical region," said Demeke Achiso, a political science and international relations expert and a lecturer at Addis Abeba University. "So, the opening of a base by Russia in Eritrea is unlikely."

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