Date: Thursday, 19 August 2021
By Gregory Copley August 19, 2021 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Russian Government has stepped up its attempts to assert itself as a mediator in the Blue Nile crisis which has been escalated by the Government of Egypt against the Government of Ethiopia. Moscow has successfully positioned itself as an ally of both states, and, indeed, has recognized that it needs a stable accord between Egypt and Ethiopia to emerge if there is to be any stability in the Red Sea-Suez strategic sea lane region. Significantly, as noted in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis on August 6, 2021, Russia has entered into a new defense cooperation agreement with Ethiopia, including the provision of new combat aircraft and essential supplies of ordnance with which to sustain its control of the Ethiopian domestic environment. What has emerged, however, is that the new combat aircraft being supplied to the Ethiopian Air Force would not be the advanced Sukhoi Su-35S, just acquired by the Egyptian Air Force (as reported on August 6, 2021), but would, instead, be additional copies of the Su-27S fighter and possibly more Su-27UB two-seat advanced trainers. This was clearly a well-considered move by Moscow: the new aircraft would not compete with the Egyptian Air Force’s new Su-35S fighters (or the Egyptians’ AMD Rafale fighters), but would instead provide the additional air power needed by the Addis Ababa Government to move against the highly-mobile and lightly-armed forces of the Tigré (Tigray) Popular Liberation Front (TPLF). The move by Moscow also allows the Ethiopian pilots, already familiar with the older (but still sophisticated) Su-27S to quickly integrate the aircraft into their battle order, and would equally allow Russia the ability to rapidly deliver the aircraft out of Russian Air Force stocks. Delivery of new Su-35S models would take as much as two years to achieve. At the same time, the gesture enables Russian diplomats to avoid any thought that some parity in combat aircraft technology could induce Ethiopia to resist the Russian urgings that a diplomatic solution should be achieved to the current Nile dispute. That, of course, risks the prospect that Egypt would use its military position to refrain from concessions, which would trigger the already-demonstrated Ethiopian commitment to maintaining its historical and legal rights on Nile water sharing. Thus the Russian mediation, reiterated in early August 2021 by Russian Ambassador to Egypt Georgiy Borisenko, could be more difficult than Moscow anticipates. Even so, it offers more than the US/UK position of merely supporting Cairo and penalizing Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa has already rejected Sudan’s offer of mediation of the Nile dispute, largely because Sudan was not only “an interested party” in the dispute but also because the Sudanese Government had allowed the Sudanese Armed Forces to be mobilized directly against Ethiopia and had threatened to seize Ethiopian territory up to and including the territory containing the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Significantly, although the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) is now re-grouping with real advantages over the TPLF, the TPLF has been attempting to make progress while it has the momentum. It has moved forces — now deliberately re-branded as “Tigrean Defense Forces” instead of promoting their Marxist TPLF label — into the Amhara and Afar regions, causing widespread and indiscriminate deaths and dislocation. This belies the claim of the TPLF propaganda mechanisms which are dominating the supply of “information” to the Western news media that it is the ENDF which was attacking Tigré and the Tigrean people. The latest success of the TPLF force, however, has been significant and symbolic, seizing the World Heritage Site, Lalibela, the home of the ancient rock churches in Lasta district of North Wollo Zone in Amhara Region on August 7, 2021. The ENDF had several days warning that the swarm of TPLF fighters was heading toward Lalibela but did not defend the location. Now it will be forced to recover Lalibela, with the attendant risk to the churches and pilgrims. The swarm techniques favored by the TPLF fighters (both historically, and today) are now, however, beginning to exhaust Tigrean society. The TPLF relies on mass assaults with attendant high casualty costs, and can ultimately be defeated by more organized and militarily capable conventional forces. Moreover, reports are emerging that Tigrean mothers are increasingly resistant to the coerced recruitment of their children, because the TPLF forces are now heavily dependent for “manpower” on child soldiers. The TPLF had rarely, in its history since the 1970s, won wide favor among the Tigrean population. This was briefly reversed when the TPLF, on losing power in 2018 through its own collapse, retreated to Tigré and portrayed itself and the Tigrean population as being victims of the new, Oromo-dominated Federal Government. That brief respite has ended, even though there remains real skepticism in Tigré, as well as in Amhara and other regions, that the Federal Government will move beyond its Oromo origins. In any event, the ongoing spread of TPLF attacks and indiscriminate warfare on civilians gives the lie to the US Government claims that the Federal Government was at fault for not entering into a ceasefire with the TPLF. In fact, the Government forces were acting with restraint because of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali’s earlier declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in the war, a decision which was answered only by a stated objective of the TPLF to continue to expand its war against Ethiopia.