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Thread: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

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    Default Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America
    Russia expects its trade with Latin American countries to reach $15bn by the end of 2008, the Foreign Ministry's information and press department said, quoting head of the ministry Sergei Lavrov today. He noted that the figure was rising rapidly, growing 25 to 30 percent per year. The minister also added that Russia intended to develop trade and economic ties with Latin America, including investment relations. Among the key areas of cooperation, Lavrov cited Russia's high-tech exports, the energy sector, oil and gas production and transportation, mechanical engineering, metals and transportation industries, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and space exploration. At the same time, he stressed that the expansion of ties between Russia and Latin America was not an instrument of diplomatic rivalry with the United States.

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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    Russia Builds Ties In United States' Backyard
    President Dmitry Medvedev is to visit Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has been cultivating stronger military and economic relations with Russia. Stops in Brazil and Cuba are also planned.

    Reporting from Bogota, Colombia -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev plans to travel this month to Venezuela, Brazil and Cuba to strengthen regional ties, a tour that underscores a foreign policy challenge close to home that awaits the Obama administration.

    Medvedev's visit to Venezuela comes as Russia and the Latin American nation strengthen their economic and military relationship. In July, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a strident critic of President Bush, told reporters in Moscow that he might spend as much as $30 billion buying Russian arms through 2012.

    For Chavez, closer ties with Russia serve as a warning to the United States "to be careful about what you do with me," said Ricardo Sucre, a political science professor and analyst at the University of Central Venezuela in Caracas.

    Chavez has said he is rearming his country to protect against a possible U.S.-led invasion, an event he has warned Venezuelans was imminent ever since a coup in April 2002 briefly removed him from power. Chavez has alleged that the Bush administration supported the takeover attempt.

    Medvedev's visit may create more pressure on Barack Obama to respond to Chavez's offer, made shortly after the Nov. 4 election, to improve U.S.-Venezuela relations. Obama has not publicly answered Chavez.

    In his dealings with Latin America, Obama as president will have an opportunity to repair relations in a region that has felt slighted under Bush. But there is also the diplomatic challenge of dealing with socialist Chavez, who has taken pains to forge relations with U.S. opponents.

    In recent years, the U.S. approach to Chavez, who makes frequent insulting references to Bush, has been largely to ignore him. But a U.S. embargo on arms and technology sales to Chavez has led the Venezuelan leader to shop for Russian military hardware.

    Chavez already has bought $3 billion worth of helicopters, warplanes, tanks, missile defense systems and assault rifles. He is rumored to be on the verge of buying as many as nine diesel-powered submarines from Russia.

    Four Russian navy ships are to arrive Nov. 24 in Venezuelan waters to participate in joint military exercises. Although no specific date for Medvedev's arrival was given, speculation in Caracas is that he will be there for the warships' arrival or shortly afterward.

    Some analysts see Russia's moves toward Venezuela as a sign that it is expanding its global profile in response to a U.S missile defense system to be deployed in Eastern Europe and as retaliation for the Bush administration's support for Georgia, with which Russia fought a brief war in August.

    Others see it as pure economics and as a way for Russia to open diplomatic doors in Latin America.

    "This is strictly business," said Igor Danchenko, a research analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "Venezuela is one of the largest arms markets for Russia, and with the global financial crisis going the way it is, it's in Medvedev's interest to maintain high-level ties."

    "As long as Chavez is willing to pay, he can be Russia's friend," Danchenko said

    Political scientist Sucre said that Medvedev's visit to Brazil might be a gesture to accommodate President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is said to be concerned about the arms buildup by Chavez, whom he sees as a rival for Latin American influence.

    Lula recently visited Cuba and secured a promise from leader Raul Castro for a reciprocal visit to Brazil.

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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    USSR2 File: Argentina's leftist president, Chavez ally Kirchner meets Medvedev, Putin in Russia; Moscow, Buenos Aires form strategic partnership


    Kirchner's Moscow Trip Follows Russian
    Security Council Chief Patrushev's October
    Visit to
    Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela,
    Formation of "Security and Defense" Pact with
    South American States


    Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, wife of the previous president Nestor, began a three-day working trip in Moscow yesterday, where she met Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, a Soviet Komsomol graduate, and KGB-communist dictator Vladimir Putin. The new relationship between Moscow and Buenos Aires is described as a strategic partnership by state-run Itar-Tass and includes the following joint projects: 1) Kremlin-owned Gazprom plans to build a US$1.5 billion transcontinental pipeline across South America in cooperation with Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela, all of which are part of Latin America's Red Axis, 2) Russia and Argentina will establish a visa-free regime, and 3) the two countries will cooperate on nuclear energy programs. In 1974 Argentina fired up its first nuclear reactor and currently maintains two such facilities for electrical output. Buenos Aires has been a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1995.

    Bilateral trade between Russia and this important South American nation has expanded more than five times in as many years to over US$1.6 billion, although the balance of trade now leans in Argentina's favor. With the global credit crunch as pretext, states Novosti at the link above, Medvedev and Kirchner restated appeals for reforming the world financial system (along socialist lines, of course) and the creation of a "fair world order" to "curb inequality." Argentina also expressed support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

    A fourth area of cooperation between Russia and Argentina includes "security and defense cooperation." This past October, according to Kremlin-run Interfax, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council and former chief of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB), travelled to Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Upon conferring with the leadership of these countries--Presidents Cristina Kirchner, Rafael Correa, and Hugo Chavez--Patrushev proposed forming a security and defense arrangement with these states. "Patrushev's meetings with the leadership of Argentina and Ecuadorian and Venezuelan presidents showed that everything is ready for activating bilateral and multilateral cooperation in various spheres, including the strengthening of defense capacity and national security," a statement released by the Russian Security Council explained.

    The Kirchners represent the left wing of Argentina's ruling Justicialist Party, founded by military strongman Juan Peron who died in 1974, and are reliable allies of Venezuela's communist dictator Hugo Chavez. The first Peronist regime (1946-1955) was instrumental in organizing the "Ratlines" that spirited fugitive Nazis from Europe to Argentina. An admirer of Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Peron chose the "Third Way" between capitalism and socialism, creating Argentina's unique brand of corporativism, social democracy, and nationalism, called Peronism, that some political analysts do not hesitate to describe as "fascistic." Ousted from power twice, between 1955 and 1973 and then again between 1975 and 1989, the Justicialist Party has since controlled the Argentine state. Other, smaller parties also claim to embody the Peronist legacy.

    In a related story, US authorities have accused Hugo Chavez of exporting his socialist Bolivarian Revolution throughout Latin America by throwing Venezuelan petrodollars at foreign presidential candidates in order to secure allies in the region. In at least one case involving the Kirchners, they actually convicted middlemen involved in such transactions. In 2007 Comrade Hugo funnelled millions of dollars to Cristina Kirchner's presidential campaign via Venezuelan nationals Franklin Duran, Guido Antonini, Carlos Kaufmann, Rodolfo Wanseele Paciello, and Moises Maionica. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on Duran's conviction by a federal jury in Miami and the money trail that connects Chavez and Argentina's ruling party:

    Hugo Chávez's Bag Man
    Guess who's on the Argentinian government's campaign donor list?
    November 4, 2008

    A federal jury in Miami yesterday convicted Venezuelan Franklin Duran of acting illegally on behalf of his government inside the U.S. If there were any lingering doubts about the danger that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez presents to democracy in the Western Hemisphere, this verdict puts them to rest.

    The mischief began in 2007 during Argentina's presidential campaign season. The Peronist candidate was Cristina Kirchner, wife of President Nestór Kirchner, who also happened to be a good friend of Mr. Chávez. In August Guido Antonini, a Venezuelan businessman traveling on a Venezuelan state oil company plane, was caught entering Argentina with $800,000 in cash. Argentina let Mr. Antonini go and he returned to his home in Miami, where he was met by the feds and spilled the beans about the destination of the money: Mrs. Kirchner's campaign.

    Mr. Chávez wasn't aware that Mr. Antonini was talking to U.S. authorities and, according to court testimony, gave an order to his intelligence chief to silence him. Duran owed his fortune to "business" dealings with Venezuelan officials, and so he was apparently chosen to call on Mr. Antonini in Miami with both cash and threats. Mr. Antonini agreed to wear a wire to that meeting, so the Miami jury was able to hear convincing evidence. What made things worse for Duran is that his partner in the crime, Carlos Kaufmann, had already pleaded guilty to the cover-up and testified at the trial.

    The trial also revealed that Mr. Antonini was not the only one carrying cash. He testified that he was told that there was another $4.2 million on the flight and that there had been other shipments of cash to Argentina. Mrs. Kirchner won the election in October 2007, as other allies of Mr. Chávez in the region have also done in recent years. It is reasonable to wonder how many of those victories were also underwritten by Venezuelan taxpayers.



    On her Moscow trip President Kirchner invited Medvedev and Putin to visit Argentina in the near future. During the last week of November, as previously reported here, the Russian "president" completed a four-nation tour of Latin America, including Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba. In Caracas, Medvedev attended a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. There he conferred with the visiting communist presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega, respectively. Ortega (pictured above with Medvedev) is a long-time Soviet ally who is slated to visit Moscow on December 17, the first such trip since the Cold War. At the ALBA summit Medvedev proposed that Russia join the Havana-Caracas-led socialist bloc of nations, which does not presently include Argentina. Nevertheless, where the communist wing of the Justicialists, ejected from the party in 1974 and known as the Montoneros, failed to topple Argentina's military dictatorship during the late 1970s, the social democratic wing of the same party has effectively prostrated Argentina to the twenty-first-century incarnation of the Communist Bloc.

    posted by Perilous Times at 7:37 AM

    http://once-upon-a-time-in-the-west....president.html

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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Putin’s Russia supports Argentina’s claim over the Falklands
    Russia openly supported Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Britain in the joint statement following the meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner with counterpart Dmitri Medvedev.
    The call said the resolution should take place "in accordance with a UN mandate" in reference to the 1965 UN resolution that called for negotiations between the two countries. Britain has rejected the call for talks, saying there is nothing to negotiate since the people of the Falkland Islands in use of the right to self determination prefer to remain British.

    During Mrs. Kirchner’s visit, Russia and Argentina signed several cooperation agreements on different fields, promised to promote trade, criticized the United States calling for a multi-polar world and underscored Russian energy corporations interest in regional projects including exploring for oil and gas in the South Atlantic.

    According to Argentine sources Russian energy corporations in the coming months will be investing 500 million US dollars in several projects in Argentina and will be invited to participate with Enarsa, the Argentine state energy company, in South Atlantic exploration for gas and oil.

    However is spite of the apparent success of Mrs. Kirchner’s visit to Russia, several possible understandings which were leaked to the media previous to the meetings in the Kremlin did not crystallize.

    Apparently Russia was interested in an explicit support from Argentina for Moscow’s aspiration to become a full member of the World Trade Organization. This demands Argentina to recognize Russia as an open market economy. The understanding finally fell through.

    Moscow was also expecting Argentina to back Russia’s policy towards the Caucasus nations, more specifically the Georgia and South Ostesia conflict but the final wording of the joint declaration only made reference to the agreement reached between French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Dmitri Medvedev to avoid an escalation of violence in the area.

    The reciprocal elimination of visas for Russian and Argentine visitors remained mired in bureaucratic details.

    Finally apparently the Russians were much updated with some of Mrs. Kirchner’s statements of last year when defending Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez she argued that the Latinamerican energy equation does not square without Venezuela.

    “Latinamerica needs Chavez as Europe needs (Vladmir) Putin”, said the Argentine presidential candidate last year during a meeting in Madrid with Spanish businessmen with investments in Argentina.

    http://www.mercopress.com/vernoticia...9&formato=HTML

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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    It doesn't bode well for those British citizens on the Falklands...

    Falkland Islands To Be Left Without Warship
    The Falkland Islands are to be left without the protection of a British warship for the first time since the war with Argentina because the Royal Navy no longer has enough ships to meet all its commitments.


    HMS Northumberland has been pulled off Falkland duties because of Navy outstretch

    The frigate HMS Northumberland, which is armed with guided missiles, torpedoes and a Lynx helicopter, was due to be sent on patrol to the islands this month. But it will now be replaced by a Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessel not equipped for offensive combat operations.

    The controversial decision was forced on senior naval commanders by the increasing problem of overstretch facing the Royal Navy.

    Cuts to the size of the fleet over the last 10-years – the Royal Navy has just 22 frigates and destroyers compared to 65 in 1982 – has left the service with too few ships to meet its responsibilities.

    The Telegraph also understands that the Royal Navy is likely to face more cuts in the near future while major projects such as the £3.9bn new carrier programme could be delayed. Ageing vessels such as Type 23 frigates, which were commissioned in the late 1980s, will have their service life extended by up to 20-years.

    The last time the British government reduced its naval presence in the South Atlantic was in 1982 when the ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance was withdrawn from patrolling the area around the Falkland Islands. The move prompted an invasion by the Argentine military and led to the Falklands War.

    HMS Northumberland was due to begin a six-month voyage in the South Atlantic but has been diverted to take part in the European Union counter-piracy mission off the coast of east Africa.

    In its place, RFA Largs Bay, a landing ship which is crewed by civilian sailors, will arrive in the South Atlantic this week to begin its mission of protecting the islands from the potential threat posed by Argentina, which still claims sovereignty of the islands.

    The vessel will be equipped with a Lynx Mark 8 helicopter and Sea Skua anti ship missiles for self-defence. The landing ship has a small number of Royal Navy sailors who are responsible for manning a helicopter flight deck as well as a boarding party made up of lightly-armed Royal Marines but Royal Navy sources have said that the ship would be able to do little more than protect itself in the event of an emergency.

    The size of the military force on the Falklands has been dramatically reduced since the end of the war in 1982. The islands are garrisoned by just 50 soldiers, composed of infantry, engineers and signallers. The RAF has four Tornado F3 air defence aircraft and crews to maintain them while the naval component consists of just one ship.

    The Royal Navy has some 22 frigates and destroyers in the fleet, however only a third are available for operations at any one time and the seven currently available for operational service are already taking part in deployments.

    One senior naval source said that successive cuts by the government had left the Royal Navy vulnerable and unable to properly defend its interests overseas.

    He said: "The Royal Navy has been pared to the bone. The fleet is now so small that the Royal Navy can't even send a proper warship to guard the Falklands. By the time the Royal Navy has met all of its operational obligations there is nothing left and that is why a civilian-crewed Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship has been sent to the Falklands.

    "In any shooting war with a serious enemy the Royal Navy would cease to exist within a few weeks. Rock bottom is an appropriate description of where the Royal Navy now is."

    A Ministry of Defence document leaked to The Telegraph last year revealed that the Royal Navy would struggle to fight a war against a "technologically capable adversary". The report also stated that the Royal Navy was an "under-resourced" fleet composed of "ageing and operationally defective ships".

    Admiral Sir Alan West, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, and who is a security minister in the Lords, has previously warned that the reduction in the fighting capability of the Royal navy could cost lives and gave warning that Britain would end up with a "tinpot" Navy if more money were not spent on defence.

    Liam Fox, the shadow Tory defence spokesman, said: "The Government needs to explain how this won't impact on the security of the Falklands. What on earth are we doing putting EU flag waving ahead of our own security priorities?

    "It is outrageous that the British Government would ever diminish the protection of our strategic interests in order to pay homage to the politics of the EU."

    A spokesman for the MoD, said: "The government is fully committed to the defence of the Falkland Islands. There is a whole package of assets – air, sea and land assigned to the region, not simply one ship. The Royal Navy maintains the flexibility to redeploy its ships to where they will have maximum effect."
    Sad that this is the state of what was once one of the most powerful navies in the world. Of course, I am sure this is what Dear Leader would love to do to our Navy.

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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    Companion Threads:





    Russia Expanding its Latin America Influence

    Signs deal to help build nuclear reactor in Argentina



    Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner / AP

    BY: Daniel Wiser


    Russia is quietly expanding its influence in Latin America as the Obama administration disengages from the region, critics say.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a deal on Saturday with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to help build the third reactor of a nuclear power plant in the country, the New York Times reported. Russia also aims to build bases in Argentina for its satellite system and use Russian planes and helicopters in the part of Antarctica that is claimed by Argentina.

    Putin traveled to the region over the weekend to attend the World Cup final in Brazil and officially begin preparations for the tournament’s 2018 edition in Russia.

    He is also expected to sign a nuclear agreement with Brazil ahead of a summit for the emerging market nations known as the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

    Additionally, Putin cemented deals on Friday between Russian and Cuban energy companies and waived 90 percent of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt.

    Jose Cardenas, a former George W. Bush administration official and assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in an interview that Russia has enough energy resources in its own country without having to partner with countries in Latin America. The recent agreements are more about “self-congratulating and aggrandizement,” he said.

    “On a geopolitical scale, the side obviously with the United States and its allies in NATO overwhelms whatever Putin can assemble on his side of the scale,” he said.

    “It’s his attempt to pretend that Russia can project its operations into the Western Hemisphere—just like the United States can project its power into Central and Eastern Europe,” he added. “There’s a lot of sizzle and very little steak.”

    However, Cardenas said authoritarian governments in Russia, China, and Iran view Latin America as a “political vacuum” in light of less U.S. engagement in the region.

    The most recent example is in Central America, where the administration and lawmakers have reduced security assistance, he said. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have now fled violence in their home countries to seek asylum in the United States.

    “Latin America is not even in the top 10 of issues of perceived importance by this administration, and countries like Russia, China, and even Iran are certainly exploiting those opportunities,” he said.

    The State Department declined to comment on this story.

    Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a Cuban-American lawmaker and former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed concerns about Putin’s actions in a statement to the Free Beacon.

    “During his trip, Putin met with the Castro brothers, the worst human rights violators in our hemisphere, and forgave some of Cuba’s debt, signed a nuclear agreement with Argentina, and reaffirmed economic cooperation with Nicaragua,” she said. “Russia continues to undermine our foreign policy objectives throughout the world and its presence in our own hemisphere can destabilize the region and is meant to thumb its nose at the United States.”

    Putin’s foray into Latin America comes after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. That action, widely condemned by international observers, helped the Kremlin secure control of vast oil and gas reserves in the Black Sea potentially worth trillions of dollars.

    Argentina was one of the few nations to back Russia in the Crimea dispute. Kirchner criticized the international community for condemning the successful referendum in Crimea but not one last year in the Falkland Islands, where residents of the British-held territory lying off Argentina’s coast voted to remain British.

    “Argentina often has its own opinion … but it is always one of its own, and is a sovereign one, which is utterly important and cannot be often seen in the modern world. And we highly appreciate that,” Putin said over the weekend.

    Argentina also faces another debt crisis as investors sue the government for the full repayment of sovereign bonds that the country defaulted on in 2002.
    Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, raised concerns about the increased presence of Russia in Latin America in congressional testimony earlier this year.

    Kelly said he observed a “noticeable uptick” in Russian power projection last year, including a visit by a Russian Navy fleet to the region and the deployment of two Russian long-range strategic bombers to Venezuela and Nicaragua as part of a training exercise.

    “It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence,” he said.

    “While Russian counterdrug cooperation could potentially contribute to regional security, the sudden increase in its military outreach merits closer attention, as Russia’s motives are unclear,” he added.

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    “You Americans are so gullible.
    No, you won’t accept
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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America


    Russia’s Return To Nicaragua Worrying Many In Central America

    March 23, 2015

    Russia is rekindling its once-strong ties to Nicaragua, possibly including providing the Central American nation with jet fighters, stoking unease as far away as the Andes in South America.

    Later this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will arrive in Nicaragua as part of a swing through four Latin American nations, the culmination to a series of high-level Russian visits to this Central American nation in the past year. Last month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paid a two-day visit, and in January the head of Russia’s upper house of Parliament arrived. Russian leader Vladimir Putin visited in June.

    The rumored provision of the Russian jet fighters to Nicaragua has spawned fears of an arms race in Central America and once again made Nicaragua a bit player in the geopolitical to-and-fro between Washington and Moscow.

    The chief spokesman for the Sandinista Front on international matters, National Assembly Deputy Jacinto Suárez, defended the possible acquisition of the fighter planes on Thursday and said Nicaragua’s relations with Russia have taken “a qualitative leap.”

    “Everyone has the right to defend their national sovereignty. Why should anyone feel threatened by this?” Suárez said at a news conference, declining to confirm whether Nicaragua would obtain the aircraft and adding that they might come as a donation rather than a purchase.

    The former Soviet Union was a patron of the Sandinista Front when it toppled a U.S.-backed dictatorship in 1979 and remained in power until 1990. During that period, Moscow provided Antonov AN-26 and AN-32 light transport aircraft and Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters.

    Former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega won elections and returned to power in 2007. He was re-elected in 2011. While strongly anti-U.S. in his political rhetoric, aimed at his domestic and regional supporters, Ortega has been pragmatic on matters key to Washington, such as immigration and counter-drug efforts.

    Word of the possible acquisition of the jet fighters came Feb. 10 when Adolfo Zepeda Martínez, the Nicaraguan army’s inspector general, acknowledged that the nation had “taken a few steps to obtain interceptor fighters” to catch drug flights. He described the fighters as “completely defensive, not attack aircraft.”

    Zepeda didn’t mention the type of jet fighter, but both Nicaraguan and Russian media reported it might be the MiG-29 aircraft, a fighter developed in the 1970s and worth about $29 million each.

    Nicaragua’s neighbors recoiled.

    “One doesn’t combat drug trafficking with that kind of heavy military equipment for fighting wars,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said in late February after bringing up the matter with Secretary of State John Kerry.

    A former armed forces commander in Honduras, Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told media there that Nicaragua’s possible acquisition would create “an imbalance for the region.”

    Colombia has been more muted, but its air force contains aged C-7 Kfir fighters from Israel and Cessna A-37 Dragonfly light strike jets, neither of which are a match for the MiG-29s. Colombia maintains a dispute with Nicaragua over maritime territory, following a 2012 ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague that expanded Nicaragua’s sea boundaries to the detriment of Colombia.

    Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, relations between Nicaragua and Russia cooled. But in 2008, when Russia sponsored the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after an armed conflict with Georgia, Nicaragua became one of only four countries to recognize the two rump states.

    Some analysts see the dust-up over the jet fighters as part of a global chess game between the United States and Russia, which has been under U.S. and European Union sanctions since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine a year ago. Nicaragua supported the annexation.

    “Because of the U.S. presence in countries abutting Russia, Russia may be looking to do the same in our region,” said Carlos Rivera Bianchini, president of the Foundation for Peace and Democracy in San José, Costa Rica.

    Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Americas after Haiti, spends far less on defense than its neighbors to the north, partly because of its success at fending off organized crime and drug trafficking.

    Rivera said it would be “irresponsible” of Nicaragua to buy jet fighters when so much of its population lives in poverty.

    “The maintenance of these planes – even if they are donated – is extremely high,” Rivera said.

    A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order not to interfere in bilateral relations, said speedy jet fighters are not so useful in identifying and intercepting drug-laden aircraft.

    “For narcotics work, what you need are spotter planes,” the official said.

    The official noted that Nicaragua’s military often doesn’t “have the funding for the basics” and voiced surprise at the suggestion that Russia might donate the aircraft to Nicaragua.

    “In my time, I haven’t seen a whole lot of free military equipment, but anything is possible,” the official said.

    Since Ortega’s return to power, Russia has boosted aid, providing 100,000 tons of wheat each year since 2011 and turning over 520 Russian-made public buses. In 2013, Russia agreed to offer patrol gunboats to Nicaragua.

    As part of the Russian defense minister’s visit in February, Nicaragua agreed to ease rules to allow Russian warships to enter Nicaraguan ports.

    In addition, Russia’s top counter-drug official, Viktor Ivanov, visited Managua last September, announcing the construction of a Russian-financed training center to fight narcotics trafficking.

    More than 45 military cadets and officers left Nicaragua last September for extended training in Russia.

    Other Central American nations have sought to expand and fortify their military capacity in recent years, creating frictions in the region.

    In 2013, El Salvador paid $8.5 million to buy 10 used A-37 Dragonfly aircraft from Chile, a move that drew protests from neighboring Honduras, which has traditionally wielded the strongest air force in the region.

    Last year, Honduras bought two Super Tucano turboprop combat planes from Brazil’s Embraer and received aircraft worth $36 million from Taiwan, including four U.S.-built helicopters.

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    Default Re: Russia Seeks To Expand Ties With Latin America

    Russia's growing presence in Latin America is cause of worry for U.S. and its allies

    By Andrew O'Reilly
    Fox News Latino


    Frequent visits to the region by high-ranking Russian officials – culminating this week with a four-nation trip by Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov – and rumors of the sale of military aircraft to countries like Argentina and Nicaragua have led to widespread speculation about Moscow's increasing role in Latin America and what this means for relations between the United States and its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.

    With pressure from many Western nations over its role in the Crimea and heavy sanctions from the U.S., Lavrov's trip to Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua is seen by many as both a move to gain support from countries traditionally opposed to Washington's influence in Latin America and a way to ruffle the feathers of U.S. lawmakers concerned about Russia's foray into the U.S.'s traditional sphere of influence – especially as U.S.-Russian relations continue to plummet.

    "U.S.-Russian relations are at a low that we could not have expected at the end of the Cold War," Jason Marczak, the ‎deputy director at Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told Fox News Latino. "Russia doesn't really have the ability right now to have a real presence in Latin America, but they can spark concern in Washington that Russia is on the rise in the region."

    While most observers agree that Russia's moves into Latin America won't create the geopolitical uproar that it could during the height of the Cold War, there are concerns that its influence could create problems for the U.S.'s policies in the region.

    During his stops in Cuba and Colombia, Lavrov was quoted as saying that Russia will work with Cuba to help end the 50-plus year of U.S. trade sanctions against the island and also that Moscow was opposed to Washington's sanctions on seven senior Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses and an opposition crackdown.

    Both Cuba and Venezuela have traditionally been opponents of U.S. policy in Latin America – although since last December Washington and Havana have made historic strides to normalize relations, while the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro continues to distance itself from the U.S. – and Russia appears to be attempting to appeal to its longtime regional allies.

    In terms of Cuba, despite a number of Russian companies interested in investing in the Caribbean country's development and a proposed joint Russian-UAE plan to build a massive new airport in the country, it appears that the government of President Raúl Castro will not let any outside influence derail the talks between U.S. and Cuban diplomats to improve the long-strained ties.

    "The U.S. process in Cuba is separate from what the Cubans and Russians are doing on the island," Marczak said.

    Marczak added that Russia's biggest threat to U.S. policy in the region could come in the form of creating a military power imbalance through its sale of weapons and aircraft to certain countries.

    Already rankling hawkish U.S. lawmakers by announcing joint Russian-Venezuelan military drills in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea - near U.S. territorial waters - for later this year, recent rumors of proposed military aircraft sales to Nicaragua and Venezuela have caused many U.S.-friendly countries to worry that they'll be left outgunned next to their Slavocentric neighbors.

    "The Russian military's sales to countries should worry the U.S. because it will create a military imbalance in the region," Marczak said. "It could start a small-scale arms race."

    Last month, Nicaraguan Army inspector general Adolfo Zepeda Martínez said the country had "taken a few steps to obtain interceptor fighters" in an attempt to catch drug flights and described the fighters as "completely defensive, not attack aircraft." While no word of what type of jet the country is looking to obtain from Russia, there is speculation from media in both countries that it would be the $29 million Mig-29.

    The acquisition of Mig-29 fighter jets would greatly increase Nicaragua's chances of becoming the region's biggest air power – with neither Colombia's ageing C-7 Kfir fighters from Israel and Cessna A-37 Dragonfly nor Honduras' Super Tucano turboprop combat planes being able to match the firepower – and the alleged sale has drawn protest from Nicaragua's neighbors about the jets' purported use in combating drug trafficking.

    "One doesn't combat drug trafficking with that kind of heavy military equipment for fighting wars," said Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González, according to McClatchy.

    Reports that Russia is planning to lease 12 long-range bombers to the Argentinian government has caused concern not only Latin America but across the Atlantic, with the United Kingdom ready to spend about $417 million, or 280 million pounds, to strengthen defense spending in the Falklands Islands during the next decade to counter what the country's Defense Minister Michael Fallon called a "very live threat" from the government in Buenos Aires.

    The news of the purported bomber lease also comes as Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and Argentinian ambassador to Moscow Pablo Tettamanti announced last week that the two countries will upgrade their military cooperation and Argentina will attend the fourth Moscow international security conference in April.

    "There is a lot of work to do and it is clear. There is a common wish and willingness to work together. We are ready for cooperation," Antonov said, according to Iran's Press TV.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin also met last year with his Argentinian counterpart, outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to discuss military cooperation and sign a series of bilateral deals, including one on nuclear energy.

    Observers say that the best chance for the U.S. to curb Russian influence in the region is during the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama next month, in which President Barack Obama is expected to attend.

    "While it depends on what comes out of Lavrov's visit this week, the issue of Russia should come up during the summit," Marczak said.

    Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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