Russian troops have been authorized by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to conduct missions in the country that revolve around police actions, humanitarian aid and search and rescue.
Ortega is also allowing Putin to put a permanent base in Nicaragua in order for the troops to get training and engage in an ‘‘experience’’ exchange between Russian and Nicaraguan troops. Opposition groups in the country are crying foul play, accusing the dictator of bringing in additional support to tighten his control over the socialist country.
Although Nicaragua has elections, they have been viewed by the international community as mostly shams that have a fixed result. Credible candidates are jailed, opposition campaign events are banned and laws have been passed criminalizing normal political behavior.
Ortega is currently serving his fourth term as president and was just inaugurated last November.
The Russian presence is not just limited to troops. Observers have been told to expect planes and ships as well in the region. Russian television has urged the Kremlin to place heavy weaponry that could strike the United States. Although the commentators did not come right out and talk about placing nuclear weapons in South America, the message was clear.
The State Department has been aggressive in targeting Ortega and his associates with sanctions. Citing the regime holding political prisoners and the extensive corruption in the justice system and security apparatus, the Biden administration reiterated its commitment to continuing economic pressure on the country.
Despite the antagonistic stance of the U.S., there have been reports of Nicaragua quietly trying to increase its engagement with the Biden administration and normalize relations. The recent deployment of Russian troops, boats and airplanes to the region may put a serious damper on these attempts by Ortega.
If the war in Ukraine escalates, Nicaragua can expect more sanctions from the U.S. to punish the regime for the Russian presence.