Back to the Future
Russians in Nicaragua

With the world focused on Syria, North Korea, Ukraine, and other pressing hotspots, the Russians have expanded their presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Last week, the Washington Post revealed that the Russians erected a mysterious satellite-tracking compound in Managua that may double as an electronic intelligence-gathering base. This is just the latest example of the increasing partnership between the Kremlin and banana republic leader Daniel Ortega (yes, the same Ortega who gave Reagan fits and provoked the Iran-Contra affair in the ‘80s).

Three decades after this tiny Central American nation became the prize in a Cold War battle with Washington, Russia is once again planting its flag in Nicaragua. Over the past two years, the Russian government has added muscle to its security partnership here, selling tanks and weapons, sending troops, and building facilities intended to train Central American forces to fight drug trafficking.

The Russian surge appears to be part of the Kremlin’s expansionist foreign policy. In other parts of the world, President Vladimir Putin’s administration has deployed fighter planes to help Syria’s war-battered government and stepped up peace efforts in Afghanistan, in addition to annexing the Crimean Peninsula and supporting separatists in Ukraine […]

As the Beltway world untangles the Trump camp’s links to Moscow, American officials are also puzzling over Russian intentions in its obscure former stomping ground. Current and former U.S. officials suspect that the new Russian facilities could have “dual use” capabilities, particularly for electronic espionage aimed at the United States. Security analysts see the military moves in Central America as a possible rebuttal to the increased U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe, showing that Russia can also strut in the United States’ back yard.

Aside from challenging the two-hundred-year-old Monroe Doctrine, Russian spymasters may see a tactical advantage for being in Nicaragua—namely, the opportunity to intercept American Internet traffic running through an underwater fiber optic cable linking Miami to Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the decision to station “about 250 military personnel” in the country and to give Ortega 50 T-72 tanks for free makes clear that they’re probably not there for the coffee.

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