At the same time, a more insidious strategy was developed – a strategy in which false information was disseminated on social media, Israel was blamed for rioting, and even public executions were conducted to give an example of "looters."
The author of this strategy was not the Sudanese government. According to CNN, it was created by a Russian company tied to a Kremlin-fined oligarch: Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Several government and military sources in Khartoum have confirmed to CNN that the Bashir government has received and responded to the proposals before Bashir was ousted in a coup earlier this month. A former regime official said Russian advisers monitored the protests and started working out a plan to counteract them with "minimal but acceptable loss of life".
The documents, while not from official Russian authorities, were essentially a draft to protect the interests of the Kremlin in Sudan and to keep Bashir in power.
The documents viewed by CNN, including letters and internal corporate communications, are among several thousand identified and investigated by the London-based Dossier Center, which is run by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The Dossier Center receives data, documents and other information from a variety of sources, often anonymously, and shares it with journalists. Chodorkovsky was tortured for alleged corruption in Russia by President Vladimir Putin and spent several years in prison for alleged tax fraud, which he has always denied.
CNN rated the documents as credible. They are also consistent with the reports of witnesses who said Russian observers had been seen in the recent protests in Sudan.
Sudan was Moscow's model for expanding its influence in Africa and around the world: a mix of private and state interests that rewards both the oligarchs and the Kremlin. It is a cost-effective strategy that will take Moscow to strategically important locations without the commitment of regular forces or large investments by the Russian government. Instead, companies are used to provide private contractors for commercial concessions.
In fact, the documents viewed by CNN come from a St. Petersburg-based company M-Invest, which has an office in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. M-Invest calls its core business the "extraction of ores and precious metal sand". As CNN has previously reported, the company received concessions for a gold mine in Sudan.
His activities, however, seem to have gone far beyond mining.
What the documents of the Dossier Center show
President Bashir maintained a close relationship with the Kremlin, which traveled to Moscow in 2017. Russia delivered modern Su-35 fighters in the same year. Put simply, Russia had placed a big bet on Bashir. As a protest against the regime gained momentum, this bet was endangered.
According to documents reviewed by CNN, M-Invest has developed a plan to discredit and suppress these protests.
A document released in early January by CNN suggests spreading the claim that protesters attacked mosques and hospitals. It also suggested creating a picture of protesters as "enemies of Islam and traditional values" by putting LGBT flags under them. She proposed a social media campaign claiming that "Israel supports the demonstrators."
The strategy also suggested that the government "simulate a dialogue with the opposition and demonstrate the openness of the government" in order to "isolate the protest leaders and gain time".
M-Invest suggested ways to make the government look good – through the widespread "free distribution of bread, flour, grains and food".
The focus, however, was mainly on the protests. It was recommended to produce evidence of arson of demonstrators against mosques, hospitals and day care centers. [and] Steal grain from the public store. "
She also suggested blaming the West for the protests and "fully informing the media about the interrogation of detainees, admitting that they have arrived to organize a civil war in Sudan." And it was even suggested "to carry out public executions of looters and other spectacular events in order to distract the protested audience."
CNN has tried several times to reach M-Invest. Her phone number in St. Petersburg did not work. An Arab spokesman answered a call in his office in Khartoum, but hung up. CNN visited the address, but was informed that the room had been leased to a Russian company called Mir Gold.
Another company document recommended the arrest of protesters on the day before the scheduled demonstrations – and the dissemination of disinformation by stating that protesters had been paid to participate. Also recommended: Show how "security forces arrested a car carrying weapons, foreign currency, propaganda material operated by foreign citizens."
M-Invest also suggested setting up social media teams to attack the protest movement, "start a dispute with users and express an alternative agenda … The optimum number of parallel accounts – 40-50."
Prigozhin – known as "Putin's boss" for the catering contracts he maintained with the Kremlin, was one of 13 Russians indicted in the investigation of Russia's election campaign by US Special Envoy Robert Mueller. The US claims that fictional social media sites have been set up to polarize voters with rebellious and sometimes fake information. Prigozhin has denied any involvement in election missions and denied any connection to the Internet Research Agency. Calls to his main company, Concord Management and Consulting, went unanswered.
The documents reviewed by CNN do not indicate that official Russian security services were directly involved in trying to suppress the protests in Sudan.
State Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a press conference in January: "We are informed that some employees of Russian private security companies who have no relationship with the Russian government agencies are actually working in Sudan, but their functions are limited to training Staff. "
Time is running out
Sources in Khartoum have told CNN that the Bashir government has attempted to implement some of M-Invest's plans.
For example, students from the Darfur region were arrested and accused of instigating a civil war – one of M-Invest's recommended tricks. According to the sources, Russian private consultants were housed in several ministries and the National Intelligence Service.
But it was too little, too late.
In a letter to Bashir written on March 17, Prigozhin complained that the "inaction" of the Sudanese government had "triggered the aggravation of the crisis." And he added with unknown prior knowledge: "The lack of active steps by the new government to overcome the crisis is likely to lead to even more serious political consequences."
Another April 6 letter from Prigozhin praised the longtime Sudanese ruler as a "wise and farsighted leader," but urged for immediate economic reforms to solve the crisis.
The military dimension
Sudan, a resource-rich nation bordering seven other countries, was shunned by the West. Its Red Sea coast was of particular interest to Moscow, as the United States and China had recently established a military presence in the region. Moscow has observed the development of a naval base in Port Sudan.
Again M-Invest was involved. In June 2018, he wrote a letter on behalf of the Sudan Military Industrial Corporation to strengthen the military connections. He mentioned a visit last month to Deputy Commander of the Russian Navy, Lieutenant General Oleg Makarevich, who had "discussed the possibility of creating Russian Navy logistics vessels on the territory of the Republic of Sudan".
The letter is addressed to General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian Armed Forces. It will be thanks to Gerasimov that alternative measures of military violence – including political and economic levers – as well as influencing public opinion via social media are used to suppress opponents.
Potepkin also describes itself as a project manager for another company, Megaline, which is 50% owned by Prigozhin holding company Concord. In a note to Megaline's letterhead to the Ministry of the Minerals of Sudan in 2017, he said that M-Invest "will enjoy all the necessary support from the Megaline Group".
CNN could not contact Potepkin.
M-Invest signed with CNN a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defense for the use of transport aircraft of the 223rd flight. Between August 2018 and February 2019, two 223th flight aircraft completed at least nine flights to Khartoum. One of these aircraft was picked up by Bashir during his controversial visit to Syria last December, the first of an Arab leader since the Syrian uprising began in 2011.
Russia has also strengthened its presence in the neighboring Central African Republic and sent convoy convoys across the border.
Whether Sudan remains central to Russian objectives in Africa depends on the evolving situation in Khartoum. Moscow will not give up easily. It has close ties with the Sudanese military, which is now on the move – even if Bashir, who calls Prigozhin a "wise and balanced politician," is now in a high-security prison.