EspañolDuring his tour of Latin America, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the opportunity to pay a quick visit to Nicaragua. On Friday, July 11, in a meeting with President Daniel Ortega, Putin proposed the establishment of a Russian naval base on Nicaraguan territory.
Presidente de la Federación Rusa, Vladimir Putin, llega a Nicaragua como parte de su gira por Latinoamérica! pic.twitter.com/cFW5waWmPV
— Viva Nicaragua (@VivaNicaragua13) July 12, 2014
The move has been expected since last March, when the Russian ambassador in Nicaragua, Nicolai Vladimir made his country’s interests in the region known. According to Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario, the ambassador said Russia wanted to “[establish a base to] supply water and fuel for Russian naval ships surveying, or in transit through, Nicaraguan territory.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has indicated that his country has no intention of establishing military units in Latin America. However, he has emphasized the need for Russian naval fleets to “have the capability to navigate the world’s oceans.” He has said that this will require “the existence of checkpoints for technical and material supplies; somewhere to rest or stop when maintenance is needed.” Two months ago when these statements were made, the Russian administration had not yet determined which country would best suit their needs.
Russia currently maintains a military presence in Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, the Crimean peninsula, and Ukraine.
In February, the Russian Foreign Ministry had declared Venezuela as a candidate for its military expansion, along with Vietnam, Cuba, Seychelles, and Singapore. The government of Venezuela, however, having already purchased 80 percent of the Russian weaponry sold in Latin America, declined Russia’s offer to install bases within its borders. “Because of our constitution, we cannot allow the establishment of foreign military bases in our country,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said during a visit to Brazil. Venezuela has also disavowed any kind of military intervention in Latin America.
Putin’s offer to Nicaragua came only days after the Central American country announced plans to construct an Atlantic-Pacific canal by 2020. The inter-ocean canal will compete with the Panama Canal, allowing for large ships to transit through the region.
After the meeting between the presidents on Friday, however, no agreements were forged over the financing of the canal’s construction. Instead, Russia proposed installing Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) stations in Nicaragua.
Nicaraguan Canal under Chinese Management
Construction for the Nicaraguan Canal is scheduled to begin in December. The project envisages a 278 kilometers-long route to be completed by 2019 and ready to begin operating by 2020.
The capacity of the new canal is expected to be even greater than that of the Panama Canal after its expansion. The Nicaraguan government has already approved the route, even though feasibility studies have not yet been completed.
In contrast with the Panama Canal, the Nicaraguan Canal will remain under the management control of Chinese Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Limited (HKND Group) for the next 50 years.
Details regarding its financing have not been released, although the project is said to include facilities such as airports, highways, and other infrastructure.
A New Polarization in Latin America?
For Luis Fleschmann, consultant for the Center for Security Policy and author of the book Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era: The Security Threat to the United States, the existence of countries in Latin America that are hostile toward the United States offers a great opportunity for China and Russia to exercise their military and political power. In doing so, he argues, they become more than mere economic actors in the Americas.
Fleischmann explains that since the recent crisis in Ukraine began, Russian leaders have claimed that the West deceived them by seeking to expand NATO to countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. “Given that Russia sees itself as a competing empire to the United States and the West, it is logical for it to aim to expand its influence in countries that have traditionally belonged to US sphere of influence,” Fleischmann notes. According to the analyst, this continues even though the United States no longer has any imperial interest in controlling governments outside of its borders.
Fleischmann believes his theory was strengthened after Putin’s last visit to Latin America. “The president focused on countries that are hostile (Cuba and Nicaragua), aspire to minimize US influence in the region (Argentina), or jealously compete with the United States for global status (Brazil).”