The Ortega regime’s rapid recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over the Georgian territories that were annexed by force in 2008 opened the doors to a deep political and military collaboration between Ortega and the authoritarian government of Vladimir Putin. Fifteen years later, the Sandinista dictator has become the Kremlin’s “key ally” in Latin America, even more so than Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil.
This was one of the principal conclusions of a study elaborated by the Central American think tank Expediente Abierto titled: “Russia and Nicaragua: a peculiar relationship threatening security and democracy in the Western Hemisphere” . The study’s author, Vladimir Rouvinski, directs the Laboratory for International Policy and Relations of the Colombian Institute of Superior Studies, part of the private university Icesi in Cali, Colombia.
“There’s a lot of trust between the military officials of Nicaragua and Russia in terms of everything related to intelligence. Nicaragua is the only country in Latin America where Russia has its own military installations and can conduct trainings. This is something that Russia controls directly, where they can do many things. It’s a very strategic location in the region,” Rouvinski explained.
The installations he’s referring to are a Russian satellite base that operates in Nejapa, around 10 miles west of Managua, and a center for police training that the regime operates in absolute secrecy in Las Colinas, a Managua suburb.
The study’s principal conclusions were presented during a talk held June 6, at the site of the International Republic Institute in Washington DC, where Rouvinski joined investigators Armando Chaguaceda and Iria Puvosa to speak about the scope of Russian influence in Latin America.
Rouvinski emphasized that the deep political ties between Ortega and Putin should be viewed “with great concern” by other Latin American countries and the United States itself. He believes that the political importance of the country to Moscow stems from Ortega’s demonstrated willingness to allow Russia to develop security and intelligence operations in Nicaragua, in addition to Ortega’s unconditional support in the international field.
“It surprised me that Ortega was the first leader in the entire world to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over the Georgian territories they annexed (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). That was a big favor to Putin, because in 2008 no one was prepared for what would come later, and Ortega was the first to proclaim his recognition,” the expert commented.
“Ortega’s support doesn’t cost much”
“The effect of Ortega’s doing this (recognizing the Georgian territories) was an important point in the development of relations between Moscow and Managua. Russia discovered that it had an ally which would support it unconditionally and didn’t cost a lot, one where mutual trust also prevails. This’s what converted the Ortega regime into Russia’s key ally in political terms and in security,” Rouvinski specified.
He stressed that data regarding cooperation and trade between Nicaragua and Russia is very scarce, and what exists only serves the propaganda aims of both regimes, to give the world an image of a supposedly thriving economic and financial alliance.
According to the study, Nicaragua exports 300 times fewer goods and services to Russia than it exports to the United States. Given this, the economic aspect isn’t a major factor in the relations between the Kremlin and Managua, as it may be in the cases of Venezuela and Brazil.
“Despite low progress in trade, both governments have attempted to present modest examples of economic cooperation, such as the Russian donation of urban transit buses to Managua – buses which use obsolete technology and have little demand in Russia. They have also stressed the signing of cooperation agreements in the pharmaceutical industry and in science, which still haven’t shown any real results. It’s presumed that Russia has significant ties with President Ortega, and with his family and inner circle,” the study asserts.
“The true cooperation is manifested in military terms and in security. In the first place, the majority of the Nicaraguan Army’s equipment was manufactured in the former Soviet Union or is now coming from contemporary Russia. Moscow has supplied Managua with dozens of tanks, which are probably the most advanced equipment of this type in the region,” the study adds.
“A training center in Nicaragua that is owned and operated independently by Moscow and a GLONASS station can guide high precision arms and facilitate the navigation of navy ships and military aircraft. Russian law enforcement personnel train the Nicaraguan police forces in several aspects of intelligence and surveillance that aids the Ortega regime in oppressing the opposition,” the document emphasizes.
On June 2, Ortega once again gave the green light to the entrance of 180 Russian troops into Nicaragua, plus ships and aircraft of the Russian Armed Forces to hold “training tasks in security operations and for humanitarian assistance in emergencies.”
Russia’s key interest in Nicaragua illustrates the possible dangers for the region when Russia finds the opportunity to develop powerful alliances with authoritarian regimes which share many similarities in their form of government,” Rouvinski warned.
Similar repression of dissenters in Russia and Nicaragua
One of the similarities is the way in which both Putin and Ortega treat the opposition. “They don’t mind showing publicly how their forces and security organisms cooperate to attack the opposition and obtain intelligence information about the opposition’s activities. This cooperation is constantly improving,” the expert stressed.
On February 14 of this year, Confidencial published a special report on how the regime had been utilizing since 2018 a Russian technological tool called SORM -the System for Operational Research Activities -to spy on Nicaraguans.
According to a report from US investigators Douglas Farah and Marianne Richardson, access to that technology formed part of the operations of a network of groups and people “with deep ties” to the Russian intelligence and to what had previously been the Soviet secret police, the KGB, “specialized in cryptology and cybernetic activity.”
The report titled “Dangerous Alliances: Russia’s advance into Latin America” examined how this network had put “at their disposition multiple advanced systems of surveillance developed by the Russian government, that are now being utilized by authoritarian regimes in Nicaragua and Venezuela.”