Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said on a visit to Russia Thursday that his country needs protection from the US and could serve as a gateway to Africa for Moscow, the AP reports. Al-Bashir, speaking at the start of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, accused the US of fomenting the conflict in Sudan. Al-Bashir added that "we need protection from the US 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 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. Al-Bashir said that his government is also looking forward to cooperating with Russia in oil exploration, as well as the transport and agricultural sectors.