In a move that has irked the United States, Nicaragua on Tuesday renewed a decade-long decree allowing Russian forces to train in the Central American country, causing further strains in relations between Managua and Washington.
Nicaragua’s National Assembly – Asamblea Nacional – gave its go-ahead for Russian forces to train in Nicaragua and conduct joint military drills with the country’s army, a decision criticized by Washington in the backdrop of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
The chamber, dominated by allies of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has been in power for 15 consecutive years, voted to allow 230 Russian troops to step in Nicaragua between July 1 and December 31 to patrol Pacific waters with the Nicaraguan Army.
The decree, submitted by Ortega, allows troops and military hardware from Russia, the US, and seven Latin American countries into Nicaragua, authorizing foreign troop participation “in an exchange of experience, training exercises, and humanitarian aid operations.”
It came a day after the US imposed fresh sanctions on 93 more Nicaraguan officials, including judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and interior ministry officials, over what Washington alleged “holding of over 180 political prisoners”.
Washington has already imposed sanctions on a large number of Nicaraguan officials, including Ortega, and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo.
Since 2012, Nicaragua’s unicameral Congress has biannually approved the entry of foreign military personnel, including Russians, into the Central American country.
The bilateral relations between Managua and Washington have been strained for years over a range of issues.
The US has long been accused of interfering in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, the largest country in the Central American isthmus that it occupied from 1912 to 1933 as part of the Banana Wars.
Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions against Ortega’s family members and allies amid a series of US-provoked anti-government protests in the lead-up to the November 7 presidential election that Ortega won by a landslide.
US President Joe Biden even refused to invite Ortega and the leftist leaders of Cuba and Venezuela to the Summit of the Americas held last week.
The increasingly straining relations between the two sides and the US sanctions against Managua have gradually pushed Nicaragua toward Russia, whose recent military operation in Ukraine has been – as expected – backed by Ortega.
At the Summit of the Americas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned Nicaragua’s move to allow Russian troops into the country.
“The idea that Russia would be a good partner when it comes to law enforcement issues or when it comes to humanitarian assistance, shall we say, does not meet the credibility test,” he remarked.
However, a number of Nicaraguan officials on Tuesday rejected Washington’s warnings about allowing Russian troops to gain a foothold in the Americas.