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Ortega turns Nicaragua into Central America’s “Russian Base”

Analysts denounce Putin's growing ties with the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo as a regional threat

The alliance between Russia and Nicaragua has strengthened in recent months with a series of official agreements. This includes a project for the “peaceful use of atomic energy”, which was condemned by the United States last week for representing a risk to regional security, international analysts consulted by CONFIDENCIAL said.

Former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís said that this relationship, which dates back to before the disappearance of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, is not surprising, but risk factors are becoming apparent given the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the radicalization of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.

“The most dangerous thing that we perceive are two major sets of factors. The first is the establishment of a real Russian military base in the heart of Central America, with extensive operational capacity in an area of high strategic sensitivity,” said Solis, who served in office between 2014 and 2018.

For the former president, the renovation of the Armed Forces of the dictatorship with Russian support, the construction of high-tech military facilities, and, now also, the announcement of the start of programs for the development of nuclear power plants, are just three examples of the danger he refers to in his analysis.

Solis added that the other factor of concern is Russian support for the consolidation of Nicaraguan tyranny, given that Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba have merged in an alliance that does nothing to help the cause of “peace and development” in the world.

Questions surrounding the lack of US interest

The former Costa Rican president questioned the lack of interest from the United States in dealing with the Russia issue. This has been happening since the middle of the last decade, according to him, because the United States “mistakenly” understands that the Nicaraguan Armed Forces have served to stop migratory flows to the North and collaborate in the fight against drug trafficking. “Both assessments seem to me to be false and put the entire region at risk,” he added.

Despite this statement, a State Department source warned days ago about the “strong Russian presence” in Nicaragua during and after Ortega’s illegitimate inauguration in January 2022, after voting without democratic guarantees, due to state repression through which he imprisoned his main political rivals.

In addition to alerting about the “growing ties” between Moscow and Managua, a State Department source said that US military cooperation with Nicaragua has been reduced in the last decade and admitted that it is quite “limited” at present.

This situation is due to a lack of trust which worsened since 2018, when the Ortega dictatorship repressed civilians, using the Police, shock groups, and paramilitary groups, which the Army refused to disarm despite the requests of the civil society. According to international organizations, a total of 355 people were killed and more than 2000 were wounded, and at least 200,000 people have gone into exile since then, while the military has argued their adherence to the Constitution in order to submit to the dictator’s will.

“Today we have a limited relationship between the Southern Command and the Nicaraguan Armed Forces. That cooperation has diminished notably in the last ten years and that is regrettable, but trust and shared values are necessary to carry out that type of cooperation. That doesn’t exist today,” said the State Department source quoted above.

Evan Ellis: “Ortega and Murillo want to escape isolation”

Evan Ellis, a Latin American studies researcher at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, explained in an interview on the program Esta Semana, that the objective of Ortega and Murillo’s closeness to Russia is to escape the isolation imposed by Washington and the European Union.

Sanctions have affected the FSLN’s close circle for human rights violations and corruption. Meanwhile, the Ortega regime argues without evidence that it was the victim of an attempted coup d’état, in which it points to priests of the Catholic Church as participants, whom it has made the object of fierce persecution.

“They want to show that they still have friends in other parts of the world because Ortega and Rosario Murillo are very isolated,” Ellis said in an interview with journalist Elmer Rivas, broadcast this Sunday, December 4.

Ellis referred to a “cooling” of military cooperation between Nicaragua and the United States. He also mentioned the sanctions that have been imposed since the government of Donald Trump, which deepened under the Biden Administration following Ortega’s repressive escalation against the citizenry in general and against the Catholic Church, the closure of independent media, and aggressions against civilians, which “just seem to continue”.

The academic believes there is concern on the part of Ortega’s allies about losing access to the U.S. market. The U.S. is Nicaragua’s main trading partner.

Last April, Nicaraguan political scientist Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue said that the Biden Administration has been indebted to the implementation of the RENACER law. Precisely this legislation opens the possibility that Nicaragua’s participation in the trade agreement between Central America, the United States, and the Dominican Republic, known as CAFTA, will be reviewed.

For his part, Euclides Tapia, professor at the School of International Relations of the University of Panama, explained that the ties between dictators such as Ortega and Putin are due to the search for external support to maintain themselves in power, while internally they do so by relying on the security forces.

“These links call into question (regional) security: the geopolitics of the Caribbean because of the links it develops with Russia and particularly the Panama Canal. These maneuvers are Russian actions to tell the United States: ‘what you are doing in Ukraine, I am going to do to you here.’ I am going to use this country (Nicaragua) with a dictator. Ortega lends himself to that and anything else as long as they support the maintenance of his dictatorial regime,” said Tapia.

For Tapia, Nicaragua is like a Russian “beachhead” on the American continent. This relationship with Putin has been strengthening since 2007 when Ortega took power.

Secret military cooperation between Russia and Nicaragua

Data on Russia’s military cooperation with Nicaragua are handled with absolute secrecy. The most recent ones were published by Revista Envío, of the Central American University, in 2016. At that time it denounced a rearmament of the Central American country in the context of Russia’s geostrategic repositioning.

In that text, citing Russian media, it mentioned the existence of a contract for the supply of a batch of 50 modernized T-72B1 tanks at an estimated cost of $80 million and the order of four patrol boats of the 14310 Mirazh project in 2013, among other acquisitions.

“The lack of official information in Nicaragua and the fact that the Russian economy is not in a position to give away or donate – except for discarded material -, added to the evidence that Nicaragua does not have the resources to buy those means and equipment, generated new questions. Who would finance those millionaire acquisitions? Was it a purchase-sale operation, a donation, or a combination of both?”, asked the prestigious magazine at the time.

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This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Our Staff


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