Russia’s increasing presence in Latin America, frequent visits to the region by top-ranking Russian officials as well as widespread rumors of the sale of military aircraft to both Nicaragua and Argentina has attracted the attention of the West.
Despite the pressure from a number of Western nations over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recently ended a four-nation (Cuba, Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua) tour in the region.
This trip is being interpreted by the West as both a move to gain support from countries opposed to Washington’s influence in Latin America and a way to get under the skin of US lawmakers.
“US-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.”
During his visits in Cuba and Colombia, Lavrov said Russia was willing to help Cuba put an end to the trade sanctions imposed by the United States over 50 years ago. In addition to that, he expressed Russia’s disagreement to the US sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses.
Both Cuba and Venezuela are traditionally opposed to the policy of the US in Latin America. Although in December, the US and Cuba made historic efforts to normalize relations, while the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro continues to distance the country from the US.
Marczak believes that Russia’s biggest threat could come from the creation of a “military power imbalance” in the region by providing aircraft and weapons to some countries. Furthermore, such Russian actions may start a “small-scale arms race.”
Although it is obvious that Russia’s moves into Latin America won’t create any sudden geopolitical shift that it could during the heyday of the Cold War, there are concerns that the Kremlin’s role could create problems for the US policies in the region.
Nicaragua Wants Russian Fighter Jets
As of today, both Russia and the US are the two largest weapons exporters in the world. While Washington is selling its arms to the Americas and Europe, Russia provides its military equipment to Africa and Central Asia.
Nicaragua has recently confirmed that it intends to buy Russian-made fighter planes and other Russian military assets in order to modernize its army. Such plans, which may create a military imbalance in the region, cause concern among two Nicaragua’s neighbors – Costa Rica and Honduras.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a visit to Nicaragua on Wednesday to strengthen the ties between the countries and potentially discuss the weapons export.
Nicaragua’s military chief, Gen. Julio César Avilés Castillo, told local reporters Tuesday that the country was planning to purchase Russian aircraft as well as ships to modernize its army and provide aid in anti-drug trafficking operations.
He mentioned several types of aircraft to buy, including “Tucano, Super Tucano, A-37, Yak-130 and MiG.” “Anything we can have, it will be welcome,” he said, according to Nicaragua’s La Prensa newspaper.
Avilés pointed out that most of the military’s current equipment, Soviet aircraft and ships made in the 1980s, are not capable of covering all Nicaragua’s territory to detect possible threats. “Nicaragua has, as does any other country, the right to explore the best way to equip itself in order to comply with the sacred mission of defending its national sovereignty,” he said.
“This represents an imbalance for the region,” Honduras’s former military chief, Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, told Honduras’s La Prensa newspaper in February, referring to rumors of Nicaragua purchasing MiG-29 from Russia. “If they are fighter-bombers, these are not to combat narcotrafficking — this means a further increase of military power.”
Socialist Nicaragua and the Soviet Union had close ties until the collapse of the USSR. After Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra won the presidential election in 2007, the relations between Nicaragua and Russia has started improving.
Russia’s Brand New T-14 Armata Tanks Spotted
Meanwhile, photos of Russia’s brand new T-14 Armata tanks were leaked in the Internet as they were being transported by rail to a range outside Moscow. The tanks will only be officially unveiled in the Victory Day parade on May 9.
The tank was partially camouflaged to hide its size, but T-14’s branded seven-wheel design was still clearly visible. The battle tank was equipped with an unmanned remotely controlled turret.
According to Sputnik news agency, this Russian beast in the footage featured a new generation 125mm extended-length smoothbore cannon — the 2A82-1M. The new feature boasts 15%-20% of better accuracy compared to the T-90’s 2A46M cannon. Reportedly, the Armata tank might also feature the most powerful gun ever carried by a battle tank, a specially designed 152mm cannon.
The T-14 armored tracked platform is able to host a fifth generation conventional land tank, artillery, heavy armored personnel carrier, and a missile launcher as well as a fully robotic armored vehicle.
The tank gives the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation an equal tank of the proven US M1 A2 Abrams in a future conflict.
Furthermore, the muzzle energy of Armata’s gun is greater than the world’s best tank gun, the Rheinmetall 120 mm gun mounted on the German Leopard 2. The gun will also be able to fire laser-guided missiles with a tandem anti-tank warhead out to 5,000 meters.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Argentinian counterpart, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to discuss military cooperation between two countries and sign a number of bilateral deals, including a nuclear energy deal.
Political experts say that the best opportunity for the US to curb Russian influence in Latin America is during the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama next month, 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.