The Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime has authorized Russian personnel, ships, and aircraft to enter Nicaragua from July 1 to December 31, 2022. The Russian troops will participate in humanitarian aid, military exercises, and operations against illicit activities on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the June 7 decree in the official Gazette indicated.
“The region has reason to feel threatened. Nicaragua bought offensive as opposed to defensive armament from the Russians. The 80 tanks that it acquired are perfectly suited for armed entry into any of the capitals of Central America,” former opposition lawmaker, lawyer, and political analyst Eliseo Núñez told Diálogo. “The Russians in Nicaragua, with conventional and technological military capabilities, are a danger to the region. We already see what is happening in Costa Rica with hackers blocking the internet […], who coincidentally are from Russia.”
The decree includes the entry of 80 Russian military personnel, on a rotating basis, to participate in “experience exchanges and conduct training in humanitarian aid operations” with the Nicaraguan Army’s Special Operations Command. Moreover, 50 additional troops will take part in security training, and another 50 Russian service members will exchange experiences “in tasks to confront and combat narcotrafficking and transnational organized crime,” the decree states.
Security and defense experts stressed that Russia has no experience in combating organized crime and narcotrafficking operating in Latin America, despite managing an intelligence architecture through the Glonass Satellite Monitoring System station and the Police Training Center, both in Managua. “And if it has it, it doesn’t know how to manage it because they’re not here like U.S. agencies are,” Roberto Cajina, Nicaraguan security and defense expert, and former advisor to the Ministry of Defense, told Diálogo. “[…] They don’t have real information about how the cartels work and what the routes are.”
According to some security experts, the authorization for the entry of Russian troops in Nicaragua is not related to humanitarian purposes, as the decree indicates, but to espionage and intelligence gathering.
“I believe that Russian troops will be used for intelligence purposes, to gather intelligence in the region,” John Feeley, former U.S. ambassador to Panama, told Nicaraguan TV show Esta Semana. “If Russian soldiers come to Nicaragua to carry out humanitarian activities, I invite the Nicaraguan people and any observers to look at what Russian soldiers are doing in Ukraine.”
“Nicaragua invited Russian forces to conduct exercises, even if they are humanitarian, at a time when that country is invading a neighbor and committing human rights violations in Ukraine. We find it provocative on the part of the Nicaraguan regime and dangerous for our hemisphere,” U.S. State Department Under Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs Brian Nichols told German broadcaster DW. “Obviously, we have to use the levers and tools in our power to express our disagreement with their actions.”
Former Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) Arturo McFields, who resigned from his position in March after criticizing the Ortega-Murillo regime, agreed. “Unlike [U.S.] Southern Command that brings humanitarian aid, hospital ships, medicines, surgeries, and free quality services to those who need them most, Russian cooperation promotes espionage, collective repression techniques, torture, armored tanks, [and] not so secret bases,” McFields said via Twitter.
Juan González, senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. National Security Council, warned of repercussions in the region not only at the diplomatic, but also at the commercial level.
“There is a consensus here that Nicaragua is going in a direction that worries everyone in the hemisphere, no matter what political spectrum the governments are on […]; we are now looking quite forcefully at their presence in the Central American Free Trade Agreement,” González told Voice of America on June 14, at the close of the 9th Summit of the Americas. “We have broad authorities in national security to impose restrictions on any country for national security issues. The invitation of outside armies, especially one that has invaded another country, that is something that should be of concern to everybody.”