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Nicaragua looks to Russia to modernize army

Nicaragua is looking to Russia to replace its old soviet-era military equipment

photo/ Tim Rogers

Nicaragua is looking to Russia to replace its old soviet-era military equipment

The Sandinista government is turning to its old cold war arms benefactor to modernize its military and beef up its national defense capabilities.

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In a speech to the Nicaraguan Army on April 4, President Daniel Ortega insisted that Nicaragua has the right to arm itself with modern weaponry, and again is looking to Russia to supply its military buildup.

Comparing today with the cold war, Ortega said Russian military support for Nicaragua is as important as ever.

“It’s just as important now to defend our right, the right that we Nicaraguans have to arm ourselves, to strengthen ourselves militarily; we have to modernize the army to provide these services,” Ortega said. “It’s just that simple.”

Since Nicaragua acquired an additional 100,000 sq km of territorial waters in the 2012 ruling by the International Court of Justice, the impoverished Central American nation has been trying desperately to beef-up its ill-equipped army to better assert its sovereignty against Colombia.

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Though little is known about the nature of the “many agreements” Ortega claims his government has signed with Moscow, The Nicaragua Dispatch has learned that Russia has dramatically increased military aid to Nicaragua in recent years. According to a U.S. government source, Russia provided Nicaragua with some $26.5 million in military aid alone in 2011—almost nine times more than the U.S. military gave.

Ortega says there’s nothing strange about courting Russian military aid, but he seemed to get defensive about it during his speech on Friday.

“What’s so strange about developing relations with the Russian Federation with the same intensity and the same strength as the relations we’ve developed with the United States military? What’s so strange about that?” Ortega demanded.

The Sandinista leader called Russia’s aid to Nicaragua “extraordinary” and “unconditional” and says its motivated by generosity “because they know about problems with drug trafficking and organized crime.”

“Who can complain about that?” Ortega demanded in a speech on Friday night. “Is (the United States) offering to equip our army with modern weapons? We all know that the arms we have are decades old already.”

Secretive Sandinistas

When it comes to understanding the nature of Nicaraguan-Russian relations, look no further than Moscow…because you won’t find any answers in Managua.

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In recent years, the Sandinistas have become even more secretive than the Kremlin, which this week released information about forthcoming satellite monitoring system that Nicaragua refuses to acknowledge publicly.

Following last week’s visit to Managua by members of Moscow’s Duma, Russian lawmakers on April 1 approved a bill that would allow that country to build a satellite navigation monitoring system in Nicaragua, according to the Russian press.

“The agreement is aimed at creating an organizational and legal framework for mutually beneficial partnership between Russia and Nicaragua in terms of exploring and using space for peaceful purposes,” reads an official statement by the Russian government, translated in English by Russian media outlet RIA Novosti.

Russia plans to build a GLONASS satellite monitoring system in Nicaragua. Map shows Glonass' constellation of satellites

Russia plans to build a GLONASS satellite monitoring system in Nicaragua.Map shows Glonass’ constellation of satellites

Russian media reports that the agreement between the two countries would establish a “network of land-based control stations” in Nicaragua to “boost Russia’s GLONASS satellite navigation system, the only current alternative to the US’s Global Positioning System (GPS) to feature global coverage and comparable accuracy.”

GLONASS, Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System, has a constellation of 24 satellites providing global coverage. It is the most expensive program of the Russian Federal Space Agency.

The bill calling for the establishment of a Russian satellite navigation system is scheduled to be debated in the near future in Moscow, but apparently not in Nicaragua, where the Sandinista government remains totally hermetic.

Sandinista military officials have dismissed rumors of Russian plans to build a military base in Nicaragua as “speculation,” and President Ortega said that foreign military bases on Nicaraguan soil are prohibited by the constitution (but so too was his reelection in 2011).

Last year, Russia announced the creation of a Nicaraguan-Russian drug war center in Managua, scheduled to open sometime this year, to train police officers from throughout Central America. But since the original announcement was made, the Sandinista government has remained tight-lipped about progress of that arrangement.

The Russians had also promised to supply Nicaraguan police with firearms, helicopters and Tiger urban assault vehicles to employ in the war on drugs. Russian drug czar Victor Ivanov, who visited Managua in February 2013, said his plan was to convert Nicaragua into a regional stronghold for Central America’s drug war, but it’s unclear in Nicaragua what has happened to further that goal since then.

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