Given the global revulsion toward Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean should rethink their relationship with Moscow. That’s what Daniel F. Runde, senior vice president for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said in a March 3 editorial. There should be a price to pay electorally, diplomatically, and commercially for being too close to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, he said.
“It’s likely that the significant sanctions on Russia will have spillover effects on Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua — the three countries closest to Russia in the region. The brutality of this invasion should make Argentina and Brazil, two countries flirting with Putin, think twice about a deeper partnership with the Kremlin. The rest of the region should see Russia’s invasion as a wake-up call and reduce their ties in the coming weeks and months,” Runde said.
Now more than ever, Putin could be interested in Latin America, especially in its anti-democratic allies. Russia’s relationship with Nicaragua is firmly rooted in geopolitics, and Russia is demonstrating its global reach, despite U.S. and European efforts, said Caroline C. Cowen, senior program associate for Latin America and the Caribbean at Freedom House, in an opinion piece for the news site The Hill.
“The larger implications — an increased presence in Latin America, among others — threaten democracy, security, and regional stability in the Western Hemisphere. For starters, Russian presence is interfering with U.S. and hemisphere interests, namely democracy and regional security,” she said.
A military partner
According to Cowen, Nicaragua is Russia’s most steadfast political and military partner in the region. “In fact, one cannot ignore that Nicaragua’s [Daniel] Ortega pro-Russian rhetoric and cooperation can be traced back to the Cold War. The relationship is built on years of Soviet support for Ortega’s Sandinista movement,” she said, referring to Moscow supplying Nicaragua with food, oil, machinery, and weapons, to the Sandinista government.
“Nicaragua has long been one of Russia’s key partners in the region, with the relationship centered on the bond with leader Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista movement (FSLN), which the Soviet Union armed and helped bring to power in 1979. Daniel Ortega rekindled the relationship when he returned to office after elections in 2007,” Evan Ellis, research professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College, said in a January 19 article for the think tank Global Americans.
Beyond military items, Russia’s nuclear industry company, Rosatom, has become an important supplier for anti-U.S. regimes wanting nuclear energy or research capabilities through companies less subject to the leverage of Western governments, explains Ellis. Recent ventures include the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Rosatom and Nicaragua’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “on cooperation in the field of use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” a press release by the company’s Communications Department indicates.
“Make no mistake, what now appears to be an isolated trend could allow Moscow to dominate the Caribbean Basin, and relations could become a cinch in the regional military balance,” warns Cowen.