Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian allies in Latin America, among them Daniel Ortega, did not achieve “substantial agreements” in the recent visit of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but that did not prevent the chief diplomat from seeking to project regional support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Lavrov’s visit to Nicaragua lasted 2 hours and 48 minutes, from his arrival at Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, where he was received by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada and presidential advisor and son of the ruling couple, Laureano Ortega Murillo.
Afterwards, Putin’s minister met with dictators Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo at the Olof Palme Convention Center. It was then that the Sandinista leader complained to Lavrov about the sanctions imposed on his officials. He criticized the United States and the European Union that have punished even Vice President Murillo.
“People who are under sanctions in Russia think that it is a recognition of their progress in protecting Russia’s interests,” the Russian Foreign Minister added.
Lavrov and Putin were also sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department on February 25, 2022, because they are considered the “architects” of the invasion of Ukraine.
According to Ortega, the 52 sanctions that the United States Administration has imposed on the Nicaraguan regime do not worry the “comrades” and should rather be a matter of “pride” for them. The sanctioned Murillo said they should feel “honored.”
Eddy Acevedo, son of Nicaraguan parents, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the Wilson Center, stated that neither Russia’s nor Nicaragua’s “tyrannical leadership” will ever admit the blow to their pockets. But he explained that the United States, the European Union and Canada are together in sanctioning those who have committed “crimes against humanity.”
A “conversation” until next June in Russia
The chief of Russian diplomacy said, in a press conference together with his Nicaraguan counterpart, that they addressed “many issues of mutual interest,” such as economic and cooperation matters within the framework of an intergovernmental commission, although he did not report any specific agreement or commitment.
According to Lavrov, Russia and Nicaragua agreed “to hold a conversation during the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum to be held in June this year” in his country.
A Confidencial report revealed last January that Ortega’s “political allies”—Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and China—do not contribute funds to the dictatorship. A data analysis, with the 2018 to 2023 reports of the General Budget of the Republic, confirms that the contributions of that “club of friends” under the item of donations or loans is zero.
On bilateral cooperation, Lavrov highlighted the assistance that Russia offers in “the areas of health and vaccine production, which is quite well developed” in the Central American country.
He recalled that Nicaragua and Russia have signed “many agreements” in different fields, and that at the end of last March signed “another very important agreement on the peaceful use of atomic energy.”
During his appearance, in which his Nicaraguan counterpart did not speak, he explained that that agreement on the peaceful use of energy will not be for energy purposes,” “but for the production of medicines.”
Visits to “embellish his visit to Brazil”
For professor Evan Ellis, expert in Russia-Latin America relations and member of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College of the United States, “the perception of Lavrov’s brief stops (in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua) were to embellish his visit to Brazil.”
Lula’s government is now being criticized because it received Lavrov with honors. The Brazilian Executive has urged the United States and the European Union to start talking about peace without prolonging the conflict, while it has positioned itself against sanctions towards Russia, although it condemns the invasion to Ukraine by that country.
“It shows once again the ability of Russian diplomacy to take lemons and make lemonade,” Ellis said.
The US expert added that Putin’s “friends” are always willing to meet with Lavrov and offer their unconditional support to the Kremlin. However, Brazil’s overture—which was originally to explore an end to the war—became a sample of the “amount of support” for Russia in Latin America.
“Ortega’s position is not new or surprising. What it highlights is the absence of any real commitments from Russia to Nicaragua or vice versa,” Ellis added.
According to Acevedo, Lavrov’s tour was intended to reaffirm alliances with Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
In this respect, he added that Ortega seeks resources to remain in power, continue repressing the people and evade the sanctions of the international community, so he aligned with Russia and other anti-US powers such as China and Iran, representing a risk to the national security of the United States.
Putin’s alliance with Ortega has been strengthened since the Nicaraguan dictator came to power in 2007, fueled by the nostalgia for the extinct relationship of the first Sandinista government in the 1980s with the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Slamming the door on Russia and SICA
The Nicaraguan dictator and Lavrov also did not refer to the slamming of the door by Costa Rica and Guatemala to Ortega’s demand to remove Taiwan as an observer of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and include Russia in its place.
Lavrov congratulated the ruling couple on the “National Peace Day” and considered “an achievement of the people to have been able to protect their right to decide independently,” without “outside interference.”
The Ortega regime declared April 19 as the “National Peace Day,” while the country has been under a de facto police state since 2018 that has violated all citizens’ rights.
In a display of cynicism, the authorities chose that date when the opposition remembers the massive protests of 2018, when the dictatorship brutally repressed citizens with the aim of prolonging itself in power.
After the meeting with Lavrov, in an appearance already without the presence of his guest, Ortega accused without evidence the “Cains,” “imperialism,” the “bishops of the devil” of attempting a “coup” against him.
Ellis noted that Russia and China function as a kind of “guarantors” for the Nicaraguan regime, which is increasingly isolated following the international demands that they be held accountable for human rights abuses.
Last February, researchers Douglas Farah and Marianne Richardson revealed that the Nicaraguan regime received training from the Russian Federation to strengthen its repressive capabilities in 2018.
The Russians have in Nicaragua an anti-narcotics police training center with regional reach. They have a Latin American biotechnology Institute set up with Russian funds and Nicaraguan Social Security funds. They also have a satellite station in Managua, denounced as an espionage center.
Ortega, the supposed antiimperialist, surrendered to Russia’s interests, and supports it unceremoniously in international forums, approved a legal framework that allows the country to respond jointly to threats “of international information security.” On the other hand, cooperation between Russia and the Nicaraguan military is not entirely transparent.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times