In a move that has already raised heckles in Washington, Nicaragua’s government has renewed a decade-long military partnership with Russia.
From July 1, forces belonging to Russia as well as seven Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico and Cuba, will be able to participate in what Nicaragua’s Sardinista government describes as “joint training exercises” and “military operations.” The main objectives of these exercises, according to Managua, is to provide humanitarian aid or combat terrorist groups and organized crime outfits.
The measure allows for the presence of up to 230 Russian soldiers in the country from July 1 to December 31, empowering them to patrol Nicaragua’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts alongside the Nicaraguan military. At the same time, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has authorized the departure to Russia of 50 Nicaraguan soldiers to participate in joint instruction and training exercises.
According to a number of Western media outlets, including Spain’s El País and The National Interest, a Washington-based bimonthly international relations magazine, it is unclear how Nicaragua stands to benefit from renewing its military partnership with Russia at such a contentious time. Despite Washington’s escalating sanctions against Nicaragua, the US is still its biggest trading partner, providing 22% of Nicaragua’s imports and buying just under 50% of its exports in 2020. By contrast, China accounted for just 9% of all imports and 3% of exports, while Russia doesn’t even feature among Nicaragua’s top ten trading partners.
One thing that is clear is that the move will piss off Washington no end. The Biden Administration has already warned Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega not to cooperate with Russia since its recent invasion of Ukraine.
Per The National Interest:
Brian Nichols, an official at the U.S. Department of State, described Ortega’s move as a “provocation” during the Summit of the Americas.
The United States’ relationship with Ortega has long been antagonistic. The Nicaraguan leader initially ascended to power in 1979 following the successful overthrow of longtime dictator Anastasio Somoza by the Soviet-aligned Sandinista National Liberation Front, ruling the country for much of the next decade. During that time, the United States supported right-wing rebel groups opposed to Ortega’s leadership, many of which were later tied to extensive drug smuggling and war crimes.
While US power over Latin America may have diminished over the last couple of decades, Washington has not fully abandoned the Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy position formulated in 1823 by President James Monroe that essentially holds that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers is a potentially hostile act against the US. As Noam Chomsky argues, the Monroe Doctrine has been deployed by Washington as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Americas.
For Russia the military cooperation agreement with Nicaragua has already served as a propaganda coup. Russian state television presenter Olga Skabeeva gave extensive coverage to Ortega’s order a couple of weeks ago, stating at one point (presumably in a purely personal capacity): “If US missile systems can almost reach Moscow, it is high time that Russia deployed something powerful closer to American cities.”
The Moscow-funded Sputnik news site published a report titled: “Nicaragua: Military Cooperation with Russia Responds to National Security Principles.” The Kremlin later tried to tone down its own messaging. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described sending the military to the tropics of Central America as merely a “routine procedure.”
Roberto Cajina, a Nicaraguan security and defense analyst, told El País that it is quite normal for foreign military personnel to enter Nicaragua to take part in training and support exercises with the Nicaraguan army. The Ortega government has at times even extended an invitation to the US to participate. But what Cajina says is striking about Managua’s latest invitation to Russian forces is that it takes place at a time when Russia has lost “international support” over its invasion of Ukraine — meaning it has lost the support of NATO members and other US-aligned countries.
Latin America, as a whole, has struck a neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Only four out of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries — Cuba, El Salvador, Bolivia and Nicaragua — abstained in the vote to condemn Russia’s invasion during the emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. A similarly small number of governments have publicly endorsed the West’s economic sanctions against Russia, including Ecuador, Chile and Guatemala.
Most governments in Latin America have stayed firmly on the fence over the issue of imposing sanctions against Russia, including the region’s two heavyweight economies, Brazil and Mexico. But two key dignitaries from the region, Brazil’s former, and quite possibly future, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Pope Francis, have both heavily criticized NATO’s role in stoking the conflict in Ukraine.
The renewal of Russia’s military partnership with Nicaragua comes just weeks after Washington’s announcement, at the end of May, that it would send long-range missiles to Kiev. That act of escalation prompted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to accuse the US of “intentionally adding fuel to the fire” in Ukraine. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the move risked dragging a “third party” into the conflict…
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