Is Russia About to Put the Monroe Doctrine to the Test, in Nicaragua?

In a move that has already raised hackles in Washington, Nicaragua’s government has renewed a decade-long military partnership with Russia. 

From July 1, forces belonging to Russia as well as seven Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico and Cuba, will be able to participate in what Nicaragua’s Sardinista government describes as “joint training exercises” and “military operations.” The main objectives of these exercises, according to Managua, is to provide humanitarian aid or combat terrorist groups and organized crime outfits.

The measure allows for the presence of up to 230 Russian soldiers in the country from July 1 to December 31, empowering them to patrol Nicaragua’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts alongside the Nicaraguan military. At the same time, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has authorized the departure to Russia of 50 Nicaraguan soldiers to participate in joint instruction and training exercises.

“A Provocation”

According to a number of Western media outlets, including Spain’s El País and The National Interest, a Washington-based bimonthly international relations magazine, it is unclear how Nicaragua stands to benefit from renewing its military partnership with Russia at such a contentious time. Despite Washington’s escalating sanctions against Nicaragua, the US is still its biggest trading partner, providing 22% of Nicaragua’s imports and buying just under 50% of its exports in 2020. By contrast, China accounted for just 9% of all imports and 3% of exports, while Russia doesn’t even feature among Nicaragua’s top ten trading partners.

One thing that is clear is that the move will piss off Washington no end. The Biden Administration has already warned Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega not to cooperate with Russia since its recent invasion of Ukraine.

Per The National Interest:

Brian Nichols, an official at the U.S. Department of State, described Ortega’s move as a “provocation” during the Summit of the Americas.

The United States’ relationship with Ortega has long been antagonistic. The Nicaraguan leader initially ascended to power in 1979 following the successful overthrow of longtime dictator Anastasio Somoza by the Soviet-aligned Sandinista National Liberation Front, ruling the country for much of the next decade. During that time, the United States supported right-wing rebel groups opposed to Ortega’s leadership, many of which were later tied to extensive drug smuggling and war crimes.

While US power over Latin America may have diminished over the last couple of decades, Washington has not fully abandoned the Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy position formulated in 1823 by President James Monroe that essentially holds that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers is a potentially hostile act against the US. As Noam Chomsky argues, the Monroe Doctrine has been deployed by Washington as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Americas.

Propaganda Coup

For Russia the military cooperation agreement with Nicaragua has already served as a propaganda coup. Russian state television presenter Olga Skabeeva gave extensive coverage to Ortega’s order a couple of weeks ago, stating at one point (presumably in a purely personal capacity): “If US missile systems can almost reach Moscow, it is high time that Russia deployed something powerful closer to American cities.”

The Moscow-funded Sputnik news site published a report titled: “Nicaragua: Military Cooperation with Russia Responds to National Security Principles.” The Kremlin later tried to tone down its own messaging. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described sending the military to the tropics of Central America as merely a “routine procedure.”

Roberto Cajina, a Nicaraguan security and defense analyst, told El País that it is quite normal for foreign military personnel to enter Nicaragua to take part in training and support exercises with the Nicaraguan army. The Ortega government has at times even extended an invitation to the US to participate. But what Cajina says is striking about Managua’s latest invitation to Russian forces is that it takes place at a time when Russia has lost “international support” over its invasion of Ukraine — meaning it has lost the support of NATO members and other US-aligned countries.

Latin America, as a whole, has struck a neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Only four out of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries — Cuba, El Salvador, Bolivia and Nicaragua — abstained in the vote to condemn Russia’s invasion during the emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. A similarly small number of governments have publicly endorsed the West’s economic sanctions against Russia, including Ecuador, Chile and Guatemala.

Most governments in Latin America have stayed firmly on the fence over the issue of imposing sanctions against Russia, including the region’s two heavyweight economies, Brazil and Mexico. But two key dignitaries from the region, Brazil’s former, and quite possibly future, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Pope Francis, have both heavily criticized NATO’s role in stoking the conflict in Ukraine.

Curdling Relations

The renewal of Russia’s military partnership with Nicaragua comes just weeks after Washington’s announcement, at the end of May, that it would send long-range missiles to Kiev. That act of escalation prompted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to accuse the US of “intentionally adding fuel to the fire” in Ukraine. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the move risked dragging a “third party” into the conflict.

It also comes as relations between Washington and Managua have soured to the point of curdling. As readers may recall, Nicaragua was, together with Venezuela and Cuba, one of three American countries that Washington refused to invite to the recent Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. It was a decision that ended up backfiring, as a number of other heads of state, including Mexico’s Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador, decided to skip the event in protest at Washington’s cack-handed diplomacy.

The US has also imposed a fresh round of sanctions against Nicaragua in the past month,  including visa restrictions on almost 100 government officials whom Washington has accused of “undermining democracy” by facilitating Ortega’s “illegitimate” reelection in November.

“We remain committed to applying a range of diplomatic and economic tools to support the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on June 13. “To that end, the Department of State is taking further steps to impose visa restrictions on an additional 93 individuals believed to have undermined democracy following Daniel Ortega’s illegitimate November 2021 reelection, including judges, prosecutors, National Assembly Members, and Interior Ministry officials.”

Four days later, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Nicaragua’s state-owned mining company Eniminas, with two ostensible ends: first, to reduce the income the Daniel Ortega government derives from gold exports; and second, in retaliation for the close ties it has forged with Russia since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

“As the Ortega-Murillo regime increasingly engages Russia and continues lining its coffers with significant revenue exploited from the Nicaraguan gold sector, the regime has turned its back on the Nicaraguan people, neglecting their livelihoods for regime gains,” said US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson. “The United States continues to stand with the Nicaraguan people against the unjust imprisonment of political opponents and the sustained assault on Nicaragua’s democracy by the Ortega-Murillo regime.”

Nicaragua’s close ties with Russia date back decades. When the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) came to power after finally toppling the Somoza dictatorship in the late seventies, it aligned itself with the Soviet Union, which in return provided military aid. Since his return to power in 2007, Ortega has gradually strengthened Nicaragua’s relations with Putin. In 2008, he supported Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, in response to Georgia’s occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2014, he supported Crimea’s referendum vote to join the Russian Federation.

In response Moscow has financed a military training center to help Nicaragua fight against drug trafficking. It has also provided $26 million dollars to help the country deal with natural disasters. In 2016, Russia officially announced it was sending Nicaragua 20 T-72B  tanks, worth $80 million dollars. The Kremlin has also supplied the Central American country with 12 ZU-23-2 air defense systems, two Mi-17V-5 helicopters, as well as “a batch” of armored vehicles. Moscow has also offered support with wheat and buses to improve urban transport in the capital.

Much Ado About Not Much At All?

Nicaragua’s renewal of its military partnership with Russia may have heightened tensions with Washington. However, the actual content of the agreement signed with the Kremlin is  fairly nondescript, though as Cajina says, there is very little transparency regarding the actual results of Nicaragua’s joint military exercises. Nicaragua’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Denis Moncada has tried to dampen concerns that Russia might begin build military bases in Nicaragua by pointing out that the country’s constitution effectively bans foreign militaries from building bases in Nicaragua.

But Russia has already installed a terrestrial satellite station known as Glonass (the Russian equivalent to the Global Positioning System (GPS)) on the banks of Nejapa Lagoon, in Managua. The location is certainly advantageous: on the opposite side of the lagoon is the US Embassy’s premises in Nicaragua.

At its inauguration in 2017, Nicaragua’s Vice President (and wife of Daniel Ortega) Rosario Murillo said the satellite system would help to “strengthen disaster management and prevention work, obtain more accurate weather information, support forecasting of crop cycles and support the entire agricultural sector of Nicaragua.” It is also meant to help combat drug trafficking. But some are convinced its real role is to spy on the US.

Now, the prospect of Russian soldiers, sailors and pilots returning to Nicaragua, albeit in small numbers, has set off alarm bells in certain corners of Central America. The new President of Costa Rica (and former World Bank economist) Rodrigo Chaves, who has already had to contend with a nationwide cyber attack in his first two months in office, said in a recent interview with Voice of America:

“Right now, we have serious concerns about Nicaragua. There is news that President Daniel Ortega has invited the Russian army to send troops and equipment to Nicaragua. We have not had a standing army since 1949. Imagine how we feel: worried, with good reason.”*

The move has also put the US on alert in its own direct neighborhood. For the past four months Washington has been able to watch the conflict in Ukraine gradually unfold from a relatively safe distance (nukes excepted) of around 5,000 miles. The costs of war have largely been borne by Ukraine and the US’ European “allies”, whose ratcheting sanctions against Russia have done little but harm their own economic interests, while US energy companies have benefited quite handsomely from Europe’s pivot to US natural gas supplies.

Now, the US must keep a closer eye on its own “backyard,” especially given the possibility that Nicaragua may not be the only Latin America country interested in forging closer military ties with Russia. Any complaints Washington makes about Russian encroachments into its direct neighborhood will merely serve to underscore its own flagrant hypocrisy: If Russia has no grounds to criticise or oppose Ukraine joining NATO, how can the US possibly complain about Nicaragua’s limited military cooperation with Russia?

Next Up: Venezuela?

In the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Caracas, Moscow’s closest strategic ally in Latin America, announced plans to strengthen its military cooperation with Russian forces. On February 17, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro unveiled plans to forge “a powerful military cooperation” between Russia and Venezuela, saying: “We are going to increase all preparation, training and cooperation plans with a world military power such as Russia. Our ties are deep and historical.”

In the past week, Maduro has signed a 20-year cooperation agreement with Iran. He is also in the process of deepening Venezuela’s cooperation with Russia in the administration of ports and the fight against drug trafficking and drug smuggling.

At the same time, Venezuela finds itself in the rather surreal position of being courted by the US. After all, Maduro is still a wanted man in Washington, with a $15 million price on his head. Nonetheless, a US delegation quietly visited Caracas on Monday (July 27) to discuss a “bilateral agenda,” which may well include the lifting of sanctions on Venezuelan oil. As AP reports, the US is keen to rebuild relations with the South American oil giant as both the US and its European allies struggle to find alternative energy supplies after embargoing Russian oil.


* As NC reader Jacob Hatch pointed out in a previous article, Costa Rica may not have a disciplined standing army but it does pre-stage equipment for US Southern Command, it’s real army. Also, almost 2,600 Costa Rican police officers were trained at the notorious School of the Americas between 1946 and 2007.

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  1. jackiebass63

    There seems to be a double standard. If Russia does something it is bad. If the US does a similar thing it is OK.

    1. Justinian

      That’s the same standard your Washington overlords have always had. NATO in Ukraine, not provocative; Russia in Nicaragua – very provocative. They don’t even bother to pretend anymore, which speaks volumes about their respect for their population. That should be much more concerning.

      1. digi_owl

        Missiles in Turkey: why so flustered there Boris?

        Missiles on Cuba: them fighting words!

    2. Samuel Conner

      The thought occurs that this might precisely be the point of the Nicaraguan initiative — 8 years of NATO cooperation with Ukraine and retraining of much of its large standing army is perfectly OK, but a small cooperative effort with Russia in the Western hemisphere is “a provocation”.

      One begins to yearn for the years when isolationism had a constituency in DC.

  2. H. Toin

    Thanks for the article.
    A minor quibble : Abkhazia and South Ossetia haven’t been annexed by Russia, the point being it’s a frozen conflict within Georgia which precludes it (theoretically) from joining NATO.

    Great quote from the Costa Rican president, I didn’t know Nicaragua had plans to invade Costa Rica. Good thing their standing army is actually the US Armed Forces…

    1. Polar Socialist

      Indeed, Russia recognised both Abkhasia and South-Ossetia as independent in 2008.

      From the Russian (and Akhbasian or Ossetian) side it’s not a frozen conflict, since the two regions are considered independent states – end of discussion. Russia has been pressuring Georgia to remove it’s legislation designating the areas as “occupied territories” so is technically trying to clear possible obstacles from Georgian membership.

      South-Ossetian president did plan to arrange a referendum about joining Russian federation (and North-Ossetia) this year but he just lost the election and the referendum plan has been suspended.

  3. LawnDart

    Poor copy-editing…

    …what Nicaragua’s Sardinista government describes as “joint training exercises,” primarily aimed at combating terrorist groups and organized crime outfits, and “humanitarian aid operations”.

    …or something else?

    This sentence caused me a bit of a stumble, but considering USAID and the historical CIA/Peace Corps nexus, combating “humanitarian aid operations” would make sense.

  4. LawnDart

    Allies across the Atlantic. Why Russia’s most reliable friends are not its closest neighbors

    It is worth noting that the last elections in Nicaragua were not recognized by the United States, the European Union and a number of Latin American countries. Nicaragua has been denounced for “authoritarianism and usurpation” by the Organization of American States (OAS), and the permanent representative of the Ortega Government is no longer allowed access to its headquarters in Washington.

    Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua are the most loyal and reliable foreign policy allies of Moscow in the whole world (and not just in Latin America)… …(A)ll three countries have found themselves at the center of sharp criticism from most of the collective West and a number of influential Latin American states. They are considered not so much “left-wing” (probably because today no one really knows what it really is?)…

    The political support provided by these countries to Russia at the international level must necessarily be supported by serious and long-term economic, as well as military cooperation. Moreover, the leaders of these states themselves are very supportive of such a development of relations, and this should be used as actively as possible.

    It is also worth considering that the confrontation with the United States for Russia is not just a matter of the foreseeable future, but, in fact, an invariable constant of bilateral relations. Accordingly, Russia should have at least several options for “asymmetric responses” in the event of further deterioration of these relations in the region. Closer cooperation with them in a wide range of areas of activity is strategically very important for Russia.

    Another question is whether the Russian side will be able not only to offer, but actually to implement some important large-scale projects in these countries. And seriously gain a foothold there…

    Source: Irina Akimushkina,

    And note Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua are Chinese allies too.

  5. ChrisRUEcon

    > And note Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua are Chinese allies too.

    Don’t forget the Caribbean, where Barbadian PM Mia Mottley had to put the BBC in their place (via YouTube) regarding China. It may not be the same as the days of the USSR, but Russia, China and the rest of the BRICS are gonna get “the band” back together. The OAS should be shunned. I keep waiting for some newer, better version of the Non-Aligned Movement to be formed. We’re not at the point where nations can just “get up and leave” western-created international institutions, but I think we will eventually get there.

  6. KD

    We all need to stand in support for full sovereignty for Nicaragua. The idea of nations having a sphere of influence has been totally repudiated. . . or let me guess, Nicaragua isn’t “democratic” so if they want a military alliance with the Russians, its not a “democratic” decision. Better patch things up with Iran quickly so the spooks can start running guns again to fund right wing death squads in Central America for “democracy”.

  7. Congold

    Sorry for being off-topic.

    A lot of main stream media is reporting that Russia has serious problems with production and resource extraxtion because software companies like MicroSoft are pulling out of Russia,

    Anyone know the extent of this problem, or can point to reliable sources? Could I suggest thar NC write about this topic?

    1. digi_owl

      Can’t say i have been paying much attention to that angle, but i seem to recall Putin making some sort of statement to the effect that the Russian government would not enforce foreign software copyrights.

      1. Congold

        Thanks for the answer. I suspected as much, however, people claim that they will not be able to update this systems. I am not a technical person, but that point strikes me as dubious. People can buy piracy software, but are unable to get the updates? Does not seem logical. I was also of the understanding that China has been violating intulectual property rights for years. That is by not enforcing it.

        1. digi_owl

          It may be that Microsoft has cut of Russian access to the servers providing the update files. though i have no clue of that i true or not.

          But in the past Microsoft used to have the policy that even known pirated copies would get updates from them, as leaving them unpatched was far worse for the industry long term.

          Never mind that i believe Microsoft offers larger organizations tools for running their own patch servers, so that a copy can be downloaded from Microsoft and then distributed internally when it best fits the orgs. I suspect it fully possible to relay those patched on to Russia from a outside source, as Russia has not been physically isolated from the internet.

          The issue may not be software though, but rather that they do not have access to replacement hardware should things like industrial Programmable Logic Controllers break. Note btw that PLCs are what the infamous Stuxnet attack went after, specifically those known to be used by Iran to run their uranium centrifuges.

    2. LawnDart

      Congold, it should pose no problems, except Microsoft loses market-share to Russian, Indian, and Chinese software manufacturers.

      «Никакой катастрофы»: IT-специалисты рассказали, чем заменить Microsoft – Рамблер/новости › internet-microsoft

      Can’t post direct .ru links here because Skynet immediately blows them up along with any corresponding comment. Also, you’d note that MSM emphatically states that the Ukrainian army is bravely marching to Kiev while fighting dispirited and hungry Russians, led by a shirtless, dying and autistic unpopular madman, who are armed only with shovels and stones since they ran out of ammo in March, who are bereft of air-support since the Ghost of Kiev single-handedly shot down the entire Russian airforce, and whose Black Sea fleet was sunk to a ship by the heroic defenders of Snake Island.

      MSM’s note of worth is but a moment to check today’s party-line, and little else, unless you get really, really happily stoned and want to ponder the “what-ifs” with your stoner-friends, then MSM at least has entertainment value.

  8. The Rev Kev

    The number of Russian soldiers stationed in Nicaragua and those Nicaraguan soldiers going to Russia is only small but that is not the problem. It is what the Russians are teaching the Nicaraguans that is where it gets interesting. They could be teaching them how to fight back against an invading army for example based on what they learned in Syria. Maybe all those weapons that the Russians are capturing in the Ukraine may end up getting sent to Nicaragua – things like manpads and Javelines. The Russian may be helping them to reform their military and are helping them with new equipment. The end result? Think Afghanistan – but with jungles just like in Vietnam. So if old Joe or some future President gets tempted to go in militarily, the price then may be too high to consider. And that would drive Washington nuts.

    1. super extra

      I’m not sure there is enough cohesion in DC to pull together a sanctioned military response of any kind to Nicaraugua or anyone else. Even under Trump and Bolton the best they could pull together was an unsanctioned, shoddy mercenary force that was captured by villagers as soon as they came ashore in Venezuela. And that was for one of the identified baddies. This is Nicaraugua, which most Americans can vaguely identify as ‘bad’ and kind of remember the Sandinistas they don’t know any real specifics. But lots of Americans vacation in Mexico and Costa Rica, and any military issue in the region will impact that heavily.

      also following this RvW ruling, I don’t think too many Americans are in the mood for a casus belli originating 200 years ago. What next, wigs on judges?

      1. Alex Cox

        Many Americans have bought holiday or retirement homes in Nicaragua. In a gated community in San Juan del Sur, beachview casas cost a million bucks.

      2. juno mas

        …Ah, yes, vacationing in Nicaragua! That was me in 1975 a year after Somoza won election with more votes than there were voters. (A victory hailed by the MSM –then the 3 networks.)

        What a vacation it was: uniformed military in the streets of Managua and camouflaged Sandinistas hiding in the jungle. Camped on the coast one weekend to surf and government goons confiscated our camping equipment. Climbed near the active volcano Momotombo that glowed red onto the night sky from Managua. Met fabulous native people that explained the estrella (stars) in the cielo nocturno (night sky).

        What struck me most, though, was the abject poverty. Hence, the Sandinista’s.

  9. David

    In some senses, this is just history coming round again. Although there were few Soviet troops in Latin America during the Cold War (apart from Cuba) there were large numbers throughout Africa and the Middle East, mostly doing military assistance and training. At the time, of course, there were recognised spheres of interest, and it looks as though we might be going back to that model.

  10. GramSci

    I didn’t know that Nicaragua had significant gold resources. Good for them if they can find fools to buy it, but bad for them if US pirates can interrupt their delivery channels. Good to have the Russians around to ensure safe delivery.

  11. Susan the other

    The US is at a geographic disadvantage. Russia is so enormous it borders on its most important allies. Both the SWIFT and the new BRICS clearing house are separate blocs of like minded (still sovereign) economies. And if you can call a financial system “territorial” then SWIFT looks to be the most territorial of the two. Trying to protect what it once controlled. So this cold-war-esque behavior of Russia and the US is being fought over expanding financial membership in one or the other trading block. It makes it look like financial competition – but if the whole world trades, isn’t it logical to assume that the winner will be the bloc with the most natural resources? And when Russia comes to the Caribbean and starts negotiating with Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua and Cuba it is a clear message. If we want to keep financial blocs separate we will have to get out of Ukraine and the Caspian. Venezuela is much more critical to the US than any other country right now, and probably long into the future. It will be worth it for us to get out of Ukraine as fast as we can. The biggest problem is that Germany is still the prize. We cannot allow Germany to align with Russia. This is the Cuban Missile Crisis on steroids. Perhaps this partially explains the new Iron Curtain we have insisted on. We can separate financial systems but we will not let Germany join Russia. I doubt it will succeed for long. Geography is not on our side in Eurasia.

  12. Carolinian

    I believe Israel has in the past sent military advisers to Guatemala’s right wing government. But then given their ties to the USG perhaps it’s their back yard too.

    Shorter Biden adminstration: spheres of influence are ok when we do it.

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