Home » Budget Industry » Opinion: Russian Tank Deal With Nicaragua ‘Back to the Future’ Moment for U.S.

Opinion: Russian Tank Deal With Nicaragua ‘Back to the Future’ Moment for U.S.

Russian T-72B Main Battle Tank in 2013. Russian Ministry of Defence Photo

Russian T-72B Main Battle Tank in 2013. Russian Ministry of Defence Photo

In late April Russia shipped the first 20 of 50 T-72B tanks ordered by Nicaragua—causing a Cold War Back to the Future moment for Latin America watchers.

The cost of the 50 tanks reportedly totals $80 million. That is $9 million more than Nicaragua’s total 2015 defense budget. The acquisition of tanks is particularly perplexing to many in the region since Nicaragua has relatively good relations with its neighbors, has a growing tourist industry, and can boast in recent years as being the safest country for foreign tourists in all of Central America. Additionally, the ruling Sandinista party (FSLN) does not face a serious a challenge in the pending November elections.

This puzzling move turns out to be one of several in recent years in which Russia has provided foreign assistance and weapons sales to their old allies in the ruling FSLN party under President Daniel Ortega.

According to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine (TRADOC) analyst Brenda Fiegel, in 2008 Russia provided Nicaragua with $10 million in foreign aid and provided the Nicaragua military with two modern troop-transport helicopters. Russian Military aid increased to $26.5 million in 2011, and a “fleet of Tiger armored vehicles” was provided by Russia in 2013. President Vladimir Putin made a quick visit to Nicaragua in 2014, and soon after that visit the Nicaraguan Parliament approved the building of Russian GLONASS tracking station on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Additional sources, including past statements by Russia’s ambassador to Nicaragua, indicate that the satellite tracking station may also include a port facility for Russian ships to use for resupply and refueling when operating in the area. That detail remains unclear at this point.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, attend a welcome ceremony at an airport in Managua, Nicaragua on July 12, 2014. RIA-Novosti Photo

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, attend a welcome ceremony at an airport in Managua, Nicaragua on July 12, 2014. RIA-Novosti Photo

The space-tracking base also generated media attention last month when thousands of Nicaraguans from the Caribbean coast traveled to the capital, Managua, to protest the continued encroachment on their lands by these foreign-sponsored projects. The building of the Russian base, and especially the Nicaragua Canal mega-project, sponsored by the Hong Kong-based HKND corporation, have met stiff resistance from a coalition of farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists. The eminent domain issues with those foreign projects are forcing thousands of subsistence farmers from their lands.

Russian media claim the Nicaragua tracking station will improve the GLONASS navigation system (an alternative to the U.S. GPS system). Nicaraguan government supporters of the base claim that the project will make Nicaragua a Central American leader in space.

These echoes of the Cold War beg the question—why? It does not appear to be domestic politics, or some ambitious plan of the Nicaraguan government; rather, it is more likely driven by Putin’s desire to create mischief in America’s sphere of influence at a low cost, while providing some direct benefit to Russia’s ailing economy.

That conclusion is supported in part by a report in Costa Rica’s English-language ticotimes.net, which cited Costa Rican political scientist Carlos Zamora. who said, “As erstwhile buyers of Russian material, like Venezuela or Brazil, have fallen on hard times economically, the sale [of tanks] to Nicaragua was ‘oxygen’ to Russia’s markets.

Under President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela accounted for 80 percent of Russian weapon sales in Latin America, and that market has now wilted with Venezuela’s current economic collapse.

The Pan-American Post cited Luis Fleschmann, a consultant for the Center for Security Policy as saying, “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 the U.S. sphere of influence.” 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 U.S. influence in the region (Argentina) or jealously compete with the United States for global status (Brazil).

Hugo Chavez memorial in Managua, Nicaragua in 2014.

Hugo Chavez memorial in Managua, Nicaragua in 2014.

The passing of Chavez in 2013, and Venezuela’s current severe economic problems, are a major loss to Nicaragua and other poor Latin American countries that were receiving, loans, aid, and oil credit through Chavez’s Bolivarian Alliance for our America (known as ALBA). That loss left Nicaragua looking for new sources of income and aid at a time when U.S.-Russian relations had reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War—enter China with the canal project, and Russia with offers of military and foreign aid.

Thus far, these Back to the Future Russian deals have not generated the kind of buzz here in the United States that they did in the heady days of the post-Sandinista revolution. If Putin was hoping to produce a mid-1980esque U.S. overreaction to Russian meddling in America’s sphere of influence, then he has failed. Rather, those who seem most upset by Nicaragua’s expenditure of millions of dollars on tanks, and the building of a Russian satellite tracking base, are the poor peasant farmers and fishermen who have for so long dreamed of a better future for Nicaragua.



  • Ed L

    interesting, Costa Rico has just a police force. Honduras has 50,000 plus army and British light AFV. with a 76mm gun. Sounds like Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has not changed his tune.

  • Secundius

    Sound’s more like Nicaragua’s affraid what the PRC might DO, then What His Neighboring Countries Might Do. China has been Buy Property From the Pacific Side to the Atlantic Side. To Build a PRC, Controlled Nicaragua Canal THROUGH the Country. With as many as ~100,000 Chinese “Laborers” to Build the Canal. One Problem thought, Canal Runs Through the Largest and ONLY Fresh Water Lake in Central America. Which Supplies Fresh Water, for that Region of Central America. The PRC, Promises to Build Reverse-Osmosis Desalination Plants on BOTH Coasts to make-up for Lose of Fresh Water. One Slight Problem Thought, BOTH Plants are to be CONTROLLED and OPERATED by PRC Personnel ONLY. PRC, is trying to Get a “Foothold” in the Region…

    • R’ Yitzchak M

      Experience with the Granada and the Panama comes to mind. Chanel buildup is the “equalizer” as our navy traverse un-opposed so Chinese and Russians Navies want to do the same.. Hardware is there just to make it harder for “Banana Country” “syndrome” to kick in on Nicaragua as well as it did with Grenada and the Panama.
      It is interesting to watch as we are closing the very life-line of the Russian Navy in their “hood”, we are seem to be nervous what is happening just few THOUSAND MILES away from our borders? It is understandable of course.. but to give it a prospective while we are yanking their chains at their borders we should not be surprised that they might be a bit more “nervous” while enemies are literally at their doors like St. Petersburg is a hugely important socio-economical target which is just few miles apart from the now enemy forces.
      Hitler sacrificed 7 million Germans just to reach that very spot. While Russians lost 20 millions defending it.. So the “economy of the scale” seem to be a bit sqewed at the moment but I wander for how long?

      Again my main QUESTION is are we really that INSANELLY ARROGANT not to factor the Chinese factor in a case of Russian demise? There is nothing in this world that would prevent China in WALKING TROUGH THE EUROPE just after NATO vs. Russia engagement. The China is taking its STRATEGIC STANCE together with the evergrowing apetite. We are not challenging the China in any way possible instead of going and seting the BASES and the ABM shields in the Taiwan which is imeaseraubly more motivated to stand up to the China than the Philipines or Vietnam (although Vietnam did quite decent response to the Chinese aggression just few years back..) I hope Taiwan and perhaps Vietnam would be our logical allies in order to check the Chinese aggressive posturing troughout region.

      Today there are two major currents in Chinese society one is of “SILENT REVOLUTION” and another Mao’s old guard’s “POWER GRAB TROUGH THE MOUTH OF THE GUN”. China will rule world for sure queiston is only trough which leadership the first one or the OLD ONE? China by the share economic GRAVITY will pull most of all countries in the region into its sphere of influence by sheer economical attrition.. trough the jobs, projects, and economy in general. That is a mastery of “SILENT REVOLUTIONARIES” Maos freak show is struggeling to hold on power with their guns.. It would be interesting to call on their BLUFF by punishing their criminal beheviour right now by SERIOUSLLY revisiting the Taiwan for sure as the most RELIABLE ALLY in the region and perhaps Vietnam would be a great asset in the region. Those two players are actually only ones that actually DO HAVE THE CLAIM ON THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. If we loose Taiwan the game is up.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    Nicaragua could become a the new Russian “Space Partner” At northern hemisphere closest to the North lifting capacity drops exponentially. At equator it is the maximum benefit to the trust to payload ratio. Roughly launch site in Nicaragua would DOUBLE the payload per same trust as is the case right now (at the Equator angular speed of the Earth is fastest). Kazakhstan is getting more and more expensive and it has limited future as well. So the alternative would be worth pursuing.. China might be using the same launching facilities with a huge SCIENTIFIC and TECHNOLOGICAL benefit to the Nicaragua or to the Cuba which could be another alternative?

    Europe use “French” Guyana for the very same reason.. So why not China and Russia to do the same?

    • publius_maximus_III

      Isaac/Laughter — Interesting thought. Is that due to the difference in tangential velocities of the two latitudes for the same earth rotational speed? I know a jet engine works better in colder climates because of the denser air being passed through the Brayton cycle, but that would not be a factor for a rocket engine, which carries its own atmosphere (oxidizer) regardless of location.

      • Donald Carey

        The closer to the Equator the faster the ground is moving. At the North Pole, it is rotating, not moving at all (except for a slight wobble). This gives a space shot closer to the Equator free velocity.

        • publius_maximus_III

          Ah-so. Thanks for the quick physics lesson. I did not realize it had an effect on space flight.

  • publius_maximus_III

    “…rather, it is more likely driven by Putin’s desire to create mischief in America’s sphere of influence at a low cost, while providing some direct benefit to Russia’s ailing economy.”

    Funny how that works — da Poot gives Ortega Russian money with which to buy Russian military hardware to “benefit” the ailing Russian economy. Sounds like what C.S. Lewis would have called a “two pence none the richer” transaction, or attempting to lift yourself off the ground by pulling upward on your boot straps.

  • John B. Morgen

    President Putin is using Nicaragua’s arms deal is nothing more than distraction, to our attention away from Eastern Europe and the Baltic nation-states. What we should be doing is reviewing our relations with Latin America, so we can buttress our Allies’ defenses. Or keep the balance of power in Latin America. Furthermore, we should be arming the Ukraine’s military with Western weapons; plus, admitting Ukraine into NATO. And above all, we should be reviewing our Cold War history, so we can prevent making the same mistakes during the 20th Century.

    • Secundius

      Obama, has been using the Drug War as a Cover to build/construct “‘Anti-Drug Bases/Panama Canal Protection Bases'” in the Following Central American Countries:
      1. Belize
      2. El Salvador
      3. Peten, Guatemala
      4. Guanaja Island, Honduras (Atlantic Side / US. Navy?)
      5 Soto Cano, Honduras (US Air Force)
      6. Plus (1) Preposition Ship off Panamanian Coast…

      • John B. Morgen

        Do you mean that President Obama is building military bases to keep out Russian intrusions from Latin America, under false pretenses?

        • Secundius

          No? Though We STILL Have Protectorate Rights to the Panama Canal, WE Don’t Have ANY Bases in the Canal Zone. These Bases are for That Purpose, Defending and Protecting the Panama Canal…

          • John B. Morgen

            That maybe so, but with Russia’s involvement of supplying modern panzers to a Latin American nation-state. It is enough for any White House administration to justify of establishing basing rights or building American bases in Latin America; thus we returned to the Monroe Doctrine.

    • R’ Yitzchak M

      .. as long we are at it why not also take the Siberia, Ural mountains, oh yes I almost forgot Moscow (it is less Russian than Kiev I guess that is just a minor detail .. while we are in a such a zeal to teach those pesky Russian who is the “MASTER RACE”? Why not so far no consequences for that old “master race zeal..” Oh perhaps send the “volunteers” into the Russia as well to help the “opposition” is that a right word that is going around in politically “correct” revised Mein Kampf?
      I hate to be doing all the time “advocacy” for the Russia only one thing that I TRULLY DISLIKE is “SOCIALISM” and the FASCISM they are INDENTICAL tools of absolute tyranny.. But if you really want a war learn the consequences of it. Nothing to do with the “MAKE IT BELEIVE” and everything to do as a collective DISTRACTION as the freak show that took 19 trillion Dollars from our pockets is trying to turn our attention ELSEWHERE and who is to be paying the price for it.. 19 Trillion Dollars plus 100-300 MILLION LIVES E A S I L Y.
      I Guess it is more important to prompt-up regional LOW LIFE Nazizoids into the “feeding-frenzy” against the Russia than to ask our local WAR MONGERS what is happening with the list of MURDERERES of OUR 3,000 AMERICAN LIVES that were EXECUTED by the Saudi “princes”. Our “leadership” is hiding the EVIDENCE that will implicate their CLIENTS? Perhaps Russia is going in a wrong way they actually failed to give the moneys where really counts.. like Clinton? Obama? McCain? “Foundations”? And perhaps even they could get away with the MURDER as the Saudis obviously do. Perhaps Russia should build a few Universities in the US like Vatican and Saudis do? Georgetown University provides 87% Of CIA and 95% of the NSA and 90% of the US State Departments PERMANENT bureaucrat CEOs run by the board of directors – oversiers a 54 Catholic Jesuits. Perhaps Jews should do the same? Russians why not?

      The main question is yes you want to go to war “mazal tov” go..!
      For what “profit/benefit” to whom you? NATO? or China? Or it would be an excellent excuse for the MARSHAL LAW.. (and we are almost there) and suspension of all rights and absolute empowerment to the “state” and its bureaucraticall ARISTOCRACY.

      • John B. Morgen

        You’d must working for President Putin to post such bloody nonsense.

        • Panamajax

          And which TV channel does your ‘thinking’ for you? You obviously don’t know it, but you’re as ‘programmed’ as the average mind controlled zombie. According to former CIA Director William Colby, “The CIA owns everyone of any significance in the major media.”

          “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” And that comes directly from the mouth of the CIA director, Bill Casey, in 1981.

          • John B. Morgen

            My sources do [NOT] come from the general news media, but nice try anyway my delusional friend.

  • RobM1981

    Nicaragua is arguably the poorest nation in the America’s, after Venezuela. Another triumph of socialism.

    Nice to see they have the money to buy armor.

    I’m sure glad they are receiving aid from various US Charities. I don’t know if the US Gov’t sends them aid, but given our leader I’m guessing we do.

    Maybe we can buy them rounds for the main gun, or something…

    • Panamajax

      Nicaragua isn’t ‘Socialist’ any more than, and probably less than the U.S. They just work harder at keeping citizens dumb as rocks. And Venezuela isn’t poor, just raped by the banks that are in the process of doing the same to you. It’s Haiti that’s the only poorer country, and after decades of Somoza and his U.S. corporate employers, like the rest of the Americas, uses your tax money to rob and kill anyone that bothers them.

  • Mike Ford

    I live in Costa Rica and they seem to think that the tanks are to be used against them over a very old border dispute concerning a river. That makes sense since the canal is near their border and the land that they want, especially a river, is probably a better route to build the canal.

  • Andrew Doolittle

    Odd for sure. Sure helps keep the peace inside Nicaragua I guess…but not just Panama City but Panama itself is so pulling ahead of everyone in the Caribbean Basin…even Florida is suffering.

    Its one thing to send Tanks and quite another to build a megolopolis capab!e of supporting tens of millions with comfort and economic security as Panama is doing.

    No one cares about these battles anymore…everything is about DOLARES now….

  • Bianca Jagger

    Daniel Ortega the unconstitutional President of Nicaragua has ordered 50 tanks reportedly totalling $80 million. That is $9
    million more than Nicaragua’s total 2015 defence budget. The acquisition of a flotilla of tanks is shocking to most Nicaraguans and very disturbing to countries in the region.
    Nicaragua has relatively good relations with its neighbours and can boast in recent years as being the
    safest country in all of Central America, so why is Ortega buying heavy armour.
    Their is a growing dissatisfaction in Nicaragua with Ortega’s Interoceanic Canal and his repressive measures. Perhaps Ortega is concern that he will face a serious
    a challenge in the pending November elections.

  • Forst1989

    I mean it’s pretty obvious he’s buying their friendship lol he needs those spy bases close to the us

    • Secundius

      That’s OK?/! We’ve got a couple in Neighboring Costa Rica…