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What is Daniel Ortega looking for in Russia?

The dictator's sons posed with a statue of Stalin in Moscow and a trade mission visited Crimea

TODAY NICARAGUA – “The Nicaraguan delegation has been able to verify an exemplary, safe, orderly, efficient and participatory democratic electoral process,” concludes a press release published last Sunday in the official newsletter 19Digital.com on Nicaragua’s official visit to Russia, which includes two children by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

Laureano and Daniel Edmundo Ortega Murillo, children of the Nicaraguan presidential couple, pose next to the bust of Soviet dictator Iósif Stalin, during the Nicaraguan electoral delegation. (Photo El19digital.com)

The group of Nicaraguans was invited to participate as “electoral companions” during the legislative elections that were held in Russia from September 17 to September 19 to choose the 450 seats in parliament.

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At the same time that the Nicaraguan electoral mission was strolling through Moscow, another delegation of “commercial economic” interest was visiting Crimea, the territory in dispute with Ukraine in Russia’s possession.

“An extensive program of solemn activities organized by the Nicaraguan Embassy in Russia and the administration of the Republic of Crimea in the historic city of Simferopol has been successfully completed,” sums up another official press release.

Although Nicaragua and Crimea signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement last June, the exchange between the two countries is practically nil and, according to specialists, has little chance of success. The distance, the costs, but above all the scarce relationship between what one country produces and what the other consumes, make a vigorous commercial relationship difficult.

On the other hand, the rapprochement with Crimea hurts the relationship that Nicaragua has with its largest trading partner, the United States, which does not recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.

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The Nicaraguan electoral delegation that recently accompanied the Russian legislative elections. Among them are two children of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. (Photo El19Digital.com)

“The United States does not recognize, and will never recognize, Russia’s alleged annexation of Crimea,” insisted Secretary of State Antony Blinken in February this year. “Crimea is Ukraine,” he said. Likewise, Blinken called on Russia to “immediately end its occupation of Crimea, release all the Ukrainian political prisoners it unjustly holds and return full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”

Following the overthrow of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych on February 22, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the pro-Russian leaders of the Crimean peninsula signed a treaty by which Crimea and Sevastopol became part of the Russian Federation. The dispute was reopened shortly after when Ukraine’s new president, Volodimir Zelensky, demanded the reincorporation of the territory under Russian control.

In 2015, the then Nicaraguan ambassador to Russia, Juan Ernesto Vásquez Araya, became the first foreign ambassador to officially visit Crimea after its annexation to Russia.

Ukraine has enlisted the support of 46 countries, including all members of the European Union and Turkey, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to regain the disputed area.

In February this year, the Ukrainian Parliament approved sanctions against Nicaragua for its decision to open an honorary consulate in the Crimean peninsula, which Kiev considered a “violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

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The government of Daniel Ortega was also among the first to recognize the independence of the separatist republics of Ossetia and Abkhazia, in September 2008. The other countries that recognize it are Russia, Venezuela and Nauru.

The current Nicaraguan representation in Russia is headed, according to official information, by the electoral magistrate Alma Nubia Baltodano and the children of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, Laureano Ortega Murillo, presidential advisor for Investments, Trade and International Cooperation and Daniel Edmundo Ortega Murillo, who they identify as “representative of the media of the Citizen Power”.

For the former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman Caldera, since his return to power, Daniel Ortega undertook a policy of adulation to Russia with a view to obtaining his political support. “It has done that from the recognition of Ossetia and Abkhazia to the Crimea,” he says.

“Daniel Ortega is there looking to flatter Russia,” he considers. “He is an aspiring vassal, because he does not even reach that condition.”

However, Ortega’s calculations aside, Caldera agrees with Russia in the conflict over Crimea that he maintains with Ukraine. “Crimea has been a historically Russian region,” he says. When (Nikita) Khrushchev (was president of the Soviet Union), who was Ukrainian, the Kremlin to make a good deal with him gave Crimea to Ukraine, so that it could have its spa on the Black Sea, but that has been Russian territory of the entire life”.

He also believes that Nicaragua’s commercial and military interests with Russia are unimportant. “It’s like when I was foreign minister, someone told me: Let’s sign a trade agreement with Argentina. And what are we going to sell them? Meat? With Crimea the same. Maybe wheat in exchange for meat, but industrial products I don’t see anything that can be sold ”.

At the beginning of 2016, Nicaragua bought 50 T-72B1 combat tanks from Russia, for an estimated value of US$80 million dollars.

“I do not see what use the military relationship with Russia can bring you,” he says. “I don’t know what we are going to do with the tanks that are being sold. Those are only good for parades. What they had in excess of equipment they sold to get out of them and say that they were equipping the Nicaraguan army. There are other areas where they could have made much more contribution: boats to patrol the sea, for example”.

In 2016, Nicaragua bought 50 combat tanks from Russia. In the archive photo, the head of the Nicaraguan Army, Julio César Avilés, President Daniel Ortega and a Russian military man.

Ortega’s main purpose, according to Caldera, is to have Russian support if the Nicaraguan case reaches the United Nations Security Council again. In September 2018, the Security Council discussed the case of Nicaragua and both Russia and China used their veto power in the body to torpedo a resolution.

“Ortega wants to have the support of Russia as Cuba does,” says the former foreign minister.

Norman Caldera, former Nicaraguan foreign minister: “Ortega seeks to flatter Russia.”

“With Cuba there is an agreement that the United States does not invade the island in exchange for the Russians taking out the nuclear rockets. That commitment does not exist in Nicaragua and it is possible that he (Ortega) is looking for ways to get more into the Russians to have something to negotiate with the United States in exchange for them not getting involved.”

“Daniel Ortega is the only person in the world who considers that there is a possibility of a US military invasion of Nicaragua,” he concludes.

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