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Backing Russia in its invasion of Ukraine will be “costly” for Ortega

Russian foreign policy expert believes Putin is hopeful that Ortega will “be able to provide some symbolic support” in the Ukrainian crisis.

Russian foreign policy expert, Ivan Ulises Kentros believes that Nicaragua’s role in the current tense situation between Moscow and Washington, is merely to be an instrument of “provocation” towards US power.

Interviewed in the program Esta Noche —broadcast only on Facebook and YouTube due to the censorship of the Ortega regime—, Kentros thinks that if the Ukrainian crisis escalates into a military conflict between Russia and the West, Latin American countries aligned with Moscow “will have to balance the serious diplomatic and even economic consequences of keeping these political and ideological ties.”

On Wednesday night, February 23, Russia started its large-scale military operations in Ukraine, with artillery and missile shelling, in addition to the landing of infantry. The first reports on Thursday morning were that the attacks had already left more than 50 Ukrainians dead. 

Vladimir Putin’s regime recently launched a diplomatic offensive in the region by sending his deputy prime minister, Yuri Borisov, on official visits to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, to sign economic and military cooperation agreements.

No details were given about the agreements signed between Ortega’s regime and Russia during Borisov’s visit. The Russian official limited himself to saying that the aim was to triple the commercial exchange between Nicaragua and Russia, and that military cooperation with the Nicaraguan Army would be strengthened.

Ortega, for his part, raised the tone of his speech in favor of Russia’s position in the conflict with Ukraine, to the point that he supported the entry of Russian military forces into that country to back pro-Russian rebels who declared the independence of the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Borisov, visited his allies in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, amid tensions of an armed conflict in Ukraine between Russia and the West. What does this visit represent?

Yuri Borisov’s visit is part of Russia’s foreign policy towards Latin America in general. Moscow has for several years seen its allies in Latin America as a mirror image of the United States presence in eastern Europe. The geographical proximity of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela to US territory, has given Moscow the idea that these countries can function as a platform for a confrontational policy closer to United States territory. In the current situation, this visit has an important symbolic element: Moscow is effectively communicating that it has several resources to respond to United States policy in eastern Europe and in particular, in Ukraine.

And what is Russia’s particular interest in Nicaragua?

Nicaragua has stood out as a receptive country for Russia, particularly the government of Daniel Ortega. In a way, it has benefited from Russia’s foreign policy, from Moscow’s willingness to cooperate with its government to break out of a global diplomatic isolation, beyond Latin America. Moscow with Nicaragua wants to gain a broader presence in the Caribbean and especially in Central America, where it has had difficulty expanding its diplomatic presence. Other than that, Nicaragua cannot offer a strategic military platform, so far. Although there have been several developments in that direction, such as the anti-narcotics cooperation between Moscow and Nicaragua. Perhaps in the future we may see more cooperation in other security areas or perhaps more in the military area.

Is Ortega’s political alignment with Putin, during this conflict in Ukraine, limited to a provocation towards the United States, or does Putin expect something more from Nicaragua and Ortega?

It is certainly a provocation to the United States Government. I think Putin is indeed hoping that Nicaragua would be able to provide some symbolic support, at least for the independent aspirations of these two rebel regions of Ukraine. Nicaragua has already contributed to this in the past. For example, in 2020 it opened a consulate in Crimea. Maybe what Putin expects is that Nicaragua is going to make a similar diplomatic maneuver, maybe even recognize the republics or other maneuvers as well.

Iván Ulises Kentros, a foreign policy expert on Russia. Photo: Courtesy.

In Ortega’s meeting with Borisov it was assured that commercial and economic agreements were signed, and it was also announced that technological and military cooperation with the Nicaraguan Army will also be strengthened. What is the extent of this cooperation?

In the past, military equipment and defense systems have been transferred to Nicaragua. For example, combat tanks, among others. It is difficult to say, at this point, in which types of areas—of military activity—the Nicaraguan Government would like to see a greater Russian presence. The Government of Nicaragua probably hopes to expand its military capabilities through cooperation with Russia, but I do not know to what degree Russian influence could enter into the strategic command of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces.

In recent months we have seen the strengthening of these diplomatic and cooperation relations between Managua and the Kremlin. Would Russia be willing to install military espionage bases in Nicaragua?

Certainly. At present there are already suspicions of certain facilities with which Russia has been present in Nicaragua, such as the facilities for the fight against drug-trafficking, training of police forces and satellite facilities. Already with this infrastructure there is a presence in Nicaragua, in certain aspects that can contribute to Russian intelligence. On the other hand, if Nicaragua is interested in expanding its cooperation with Russia, it would be interested in expanding a whole range of options for collaboration with Russian intelligence that it already has, based on Nicaraguan territory.

The United States and the European Union have in recent days issued sanctions against Russia and it is expected that as the tension in Ukraine increases or grows, there will be more sanctions. Can that affect ties and relations between Russia and Nicaragua?

I would say no. The sanctions that the European Union and the United States and other countries are imposing on Russia do not risk the cooperation between Russia and Nicaragua, for the time being. This is also going to depend on what sectors are going to be implicated in these sanctions, because in any case, they may affect some of the sectors in which cooperation takes place. For example, if it affects the military sector, we will see if this is going to affect the ability to cooperate between Nicaragua and Russia.

What would be the repercussions of a full-scales Russian invasion of Ukraine on Russia’s allies in Latin America, such as Nicaragua?

First of all, it would force Russia’s allied countries in Latin America to reflect on the goals they achieve through their collaboration with Russia. For example, it may happen that a major conflict between Ukraine, Russia and the West would result in any collaboration with Russia being too costly in terms of diplomacy, international relations, and in terms of economic ties. It is difficult to predict what kind of impact there would be, but it would certainly greatly complicate collaboration with any of these countries.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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