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Nicaragua - Russia Relations

Russia shared economic and political ties with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua since the Soviet period. Russia's cooperation with its longstanding Latin American allies evidently caught its second wind. Socialist Nicaragua and the Soviet Union collaborated closely until the collapse of the USSR. A temporary cooling in relations was triggered by the collapse of the USSR and a string of geopolitical changes in the world.

With help from the Soviet Union and Cuba, the Sandinista Government of Nicaragua developed a formidable fighting force that is already the largest in Central America and, with its present rate of growth, it will become one of the largest in all of Latin America. A recent statement from President elect Ortega on Nicaraguan intent to modernize their Air Force and U.S. charges that it is opposed to such a build—up have brought attention to the significant Soviet military assistance effort in Nicaragua. More than 6,000 metric tons of weapons were shipped from the Soviet Union to Nicaragua in both 1981 and 1982. In 1983, the amount went up to 11,000 metric tons. Some of these weapons were shipped via third countries, such as Cuba and Libya.

The Soviet Union had approximately 100 military advisors in Managua who were believed to be providing assistance to Nicaragua's small Air Force by training flyers and ground crews. Several airports in Nicaragua were upgraded to handle military jets, and Nicaraguan fighter pilots had already been trained in Bulgaria. Cuba maintained approximately 3,000 to 3,500 military advisors in Nicaragua, in addition to over 9,000 engineers, builders, and teachers. It was widely believed that almost all of these groups are "military capable," much like the "construction worker" in Grenada. The overall Cuban presence in Nicaragua is estimated at approximately 12,000 personnel. Along with Soviet and Cuban military advisors, there were substantial numbers of East German and Bulgarian advisors.

The Sandinistas served as surrogates of the Cubans, much like the Cubans serve as surrogates of the Soviets. Nicaraguan intelligence agents reportedly had been involved in terrorist activities in Costa Rica, and were alleged to be the principal suppliers of weapons and ammunition to the Marxist rebels in El Salvador. As a result of repeated incursions by Nicaraguan forces, on 6 May 1984, Costa Rican President Luis Alberto Monge requested emergency arms aid from the United States. This request constitutes a radioal departure in policy for this country that is unique in Latin America; Costa Rica had no standing army and had always followed a pacifistic policy, seeking accommodations through diplomacy rather than armed conflict.

Fred C. lkle, US Under Secretary of Defense, Policy, said that 80% of the ammunition and explosives used by Salvadoran guerrillas came from Cuba and the Soviet Union through Nicaragua. Only 20%, he reported in 1984, came from what was captured from the Salvadoran Army. Some of the American-made arms being supplied to the guerrillas came from supplies previously captured, by the Vietnamese. Additional weapons came from supplies that have been provided to the Nicaraguan National Guard before the fall of the late dictator Anastasio Somosa.

In 2007 relations between Nicaragua and the Russian Federation started improving after Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra won the presidential election in the Central American country. The rise of President Putin to power in Russia in 2000 and the return of the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua in 2006 renewed the possibility that Moscow may again seek military access to Nicaragua for the same strategic reasons the Soviet Union sought access to Central America. As US relations with Moscow grew strained, Moscow showed new interest in the region. In September 2008, two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers made a surprise visit to Venezuela, the first ever flight to the region of such an advanced aircraft. Soon after, a Russian naval task force, following a brief stop in Cuba, visited both Venezuela and Nicaragua for the first time. Since that time, Moscow boosted its cooperation with Managua, bolstering bilateral programs aimed at fighting narcotics trafficking in the region. In September 2014 more than 45 Nicaraguan military cadets and officers left for extended military training in Russia.

Since Ortega’s return to Nicaragua’s helm, the two countries have strengthened cooperation in energy, healthcare, transport, construction, tourism, education, culture and other spheres. During this period Moscow has supplied over 100,000 tons of humanitarian grain, 520 buses and 500 Russian-made Lada cars to Nicaragua as well as assisted in modernizing the country’s natural disaster clean up infrastructure.

More steps were made towards the strengthening of relations between the Republic of Nicaragua and the Russian Federation during a visit to the Central American country by a Russian delegation headed by the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF) Nikolai Patrushev. The sides held talks, conducted negotiations and signed a memorandum of cooperation which will allow the two countries to coordinate positions on important international security issues.

“I am confident that the signed memorandum will promote cooperation between our two countries,” Patrushev said at a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Patrushev noted that thanks to the memorandum, consultations between the High Command of Nicaragua and Russia's Security Council “will now be conducted on a permanent basis.” The Russian Security Council Secretary noted that “Nicaragua is an important partner and friend of Russia in Latin America,” pointing to the coinciding views of the two countries’ authorities “on many issues.” Secretary Patrushev also expressed gratitude to the Nicaraguan government for supporting the position of the Russian Federation, on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A particularly notable event was a second stopover of Russian Tu-160s in October 2013. After stopping in Venezuela, the bombers made a highly visible landing at Sandino International Airport outside Managua rather than at the more remote Punta Huete Airfield. On 31 October 2013 two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers arrived in Nicaragua after taking off from an airbase in Venezuela. The nuclear-capable bombers “flew above the neutral waters of the Caribbean Sea, entered the airspace of Nicaragua and performed a planned landing,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. The aircraft covered over 2,500 km during their three-hour flight from the Maiquetia airfield in Venezuela. Moscow subsequently announced that it was seeking military air and naval access agreements with eight countries, including Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela.

The two bombers took off from the Engels airbase in the Volga region and covered a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers (over 6,200 miles) during a 13-hour non-stop flight to Venezuela. The ministry said the current mission was carried out “in line with the program of combat training” and corresponded to all international norms. Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers conducted a similar mission in 2008. It was followed by a visit to Venezuela by a Russian naval task force, which took part in joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy.

Nicaragua’s parliament ratified the government’s decision allowing Russian military units, planes and ships to visit the Central American country. The 27 November 2013 voting took place at an urgent request of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Under the document, ships and planes of Russia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela will be able to visit Nicaragua in the first half of 2014. Their crews are allowed to participate "in exchange of experience and training" of Nicaragua’s servicemen. Moreover, Russian servicemen together with Nicaragua’s armed forces will take part in a joint patrolling of the republic’s territorial waters in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean from January 1 to June 30, 2014. The main task of these operations is to fight drug trafficking. The US servicemen were issued a similar permit.

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, changed the schedule for his Latin American tour and arrived a brief working visit in Nicaragua 12 July 2014. Making his way from Cuba to Argentina on Saturday, the Russian leader decided on a stopover in Managua, where he had earlier been officially invited. At Managua airport, he was welcomed by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. "Much is yet to be done to develop our relations, especially in the economic area, but we have a good basis for that," Putin said, adding that Russia and Nicaragua had long-standing good relations. "We admire personal courage and the courage of your people," he told Ortega. The Russian leader recalled that the year 2014 is a jubilee for Russia and Nicaragua, which established diplomatic relations 70 years ago.

Franco Ordonez reported "Nicaraguan military officials showed off the new Russian T-72 tanks in a scene that recalled when then-President Ronald Reagan used the possibility of Russian tanks as a pitch for funding contra rebels fighting Ortega’s Sandinista government in the 1980s. “It’s always bewildered me how the second poorest country in the hemisphere is buying tanks, is buying planes, is buying all sorts of arms, and yet the need of the people seems to be ignored,” said Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee."

Brenda Fiegel wrote "Nicaragua appears to be an important first step for Russia in accomplishing its goal of obtaining strategic military presence in Latin America.... continued presence will likely allow Russia ample opportunities to further their end goal of establishing permanent military presence in Nicaragua while simultaneously establishing themselves as a strategic ally in the region.... For Costa Rica, the idea of a Russian military base in Nicaragua is unnerving, as relations between the two countries are tense. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís reiterated this idea by referring to Nicaragua as an “uncomfortable neighbor” in March 2014. Solís further added that “We should keep in mind the ties that exist between our countries, but Nicaragua was an aggressor in Costa Rican territory; they invaded (referring to Isla Calero in 2010).” Citing similar concerns, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo indicated that Nicaragua is attempting to intimidate its Central American neighbors by arming itself with modern weapons and equipment with the help of Russia..." On 03 April 2017 a delegation from the Russian Airborne Troops command flew to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua to discuss future joint drills. Some reports claim that a Russian parachute company made up of 100 servicemen, together with ten airborne combat vehicles, will participate in the joint exercises. The vehicles will be used by the paratroopers to eliminate a theoretical terrorist threat in the Latin American country. Experts believe the decision to hold the drills in Nicaragua is related to Russia's desire to restore relations with countries in the region and to strengthen its influence on America's "underbelly." After the collapse of the USSR military contact between the countries was terminated, and today Moscow is apparently trying to make up for lost time.

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