Thirty some-odd years after Moscow and Managua traded diplomatic missions, the one-time Cold War allies appear to be growing closer than ever.
Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin, met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at the end of last month—reportedly the third official Russian trip to Nicaragua in a year—signing several deals meant to make ties even tighter.
Sechin came in the company of high government officials from Russia’s energy and fisheries departments, and signed agreements aimed at boosting bilateral cooperation in both these areas. Sechin has said Russia that is particularly interested in the potential for crude oil exploration in Nicaragua.
Sechin and Ortega also agreed to introduce visa-free travel for their citizens, which according to Nicaraguan Vice President Jaime Morales, will help promote tourism between the two countries.
The deals are part of a broader regional charm offensive. Observers are now referring to Latin America’s revival in Russian relations, years after Moscow’s military reach faded at the end of the Soviet era. Many Nicaraguans, for example, remember the Soviet armaments the Sandinistas used against the U.S.-backed Contras.
Back in government again, Ortega set the stage last year for bilateral coziness when he surprisingly recognized the statehood of the former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was a lonely endorsement: Nicaragua was the lone country to join Russia in supporting the two regions’ Moscow-backed breakaway.
Russia’s thanks: a gift of 130 buses to ease Nicaragua’s public transport ailments.
Deepening ties with the Kremlin seems to be coming at just the right time for Nicaragua, which fears an aid vacuum. In addition to European cuts, Washington’s Millennium Challenge Corporation clipped millions in development money over concerns that Ortega’s Sandinista party rigged the November 2008 municipal elections.
But Ortega shrugged off the announced cuts saying Russia and Venezuela would come to Nicaragua’s aid. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez promises to come through with the support of his aid and trade bloc, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA. For Russia, no visa requirements are an interesting development but let’s see what may come next, the real test of Moscow’s renewed interest.
Alex Leff is acontributing blogger to americasquarterly.org based in San José, Costa Rica, and is the online editor for The Tico Times, Central America’s leading English-language newspaper.