Why are Russian paratroopers heading for Nicaragua?

April 6, 2017 Nikolai Litovkin, RBTH
Russia will send about 100 parachute troops to Nicaragua for the first joint anti-terrorist operations between the two nations.
Russian paratrooper
A Russian paratrooper during the joint battalion tactical exercise of airborne troops from Russia, Belarus and Serbia at Rayevsky base outside Novorossiysk. Source: Nikolay Hiznyak/RIA Novosti

On April 3 a delegation from the Russian Airborne Troops command flew to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua to discuss future joint drills. However, it’s still unclear when exactly these will take place.

Some reports claim that a Russian parachute company made up of 100 servicemen, together with ten airborne combat vehicles, will participate in the joint exercises. The vehicles will be used by the paratroopers to eliminate a theoretical terrorist threat in the Latin American country.

Experts believe the decision to hold the drills in Nicaragua is related to Russia's desire to restore relations with countries in the region and to strengthen its influence on America's "underbelly."

Restoring old contacts

Alexei Ramm, a military analyst from the Izvestia newspaper, says Moscow and Managua have a profound historical background. The countries actively cooperated during the Soviet Union and the civil war in the Latin American republic.

"Basically, towards the end of the 1970s the USSR's support helped bring the Sandinista National Liberation Front to power. At that time the Soviet Union aspired to obtain military-political levers in other parts of America's 'underbelly,' besides Cuba," explained Ramm.

He says Moscow and Washington once battled it out for a foothold in Nicaragua, with Russia supplying the country’s Sandinista National Liberation Front with weapons and military advisors. Ronald Reagan’s administration, on the other hand, supplied weapons to the radical anti-Sandinista opposition, the Contras. In the end Nicaragua remained in the Soviet sphere of influence.

However, after the collapse of the USSR military contact between the countries was terminated, and today Moscow is apparently trying to make up for lost time.

"The exercises will take place to expand cooperation and promote our technology in the region. In particular, we want to sell Nicaragua our T-55 and T-72 tanks. We'll see how the drills reflect on this idea," Ramm added.

Who else is Russia conducting these types of drills with?

"Russia carries out its biggest drills with its nearest neighbors: Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia, since we are part of a single defense space," said Viktor Litovkin, a military expert at the TASS news agency.

However, Litovkin believes that today Russia is not actively conducting larger military drills in various parts of the world. "Drills with foreigners are carried out occasionally. For Russia this is primarily to demonstrate the technology we would like to supply to those regions. Besides Nicaragua, we hold similar exercises with Egypt and India," Litovkin added.

Read more: Why is Putin expanding Russia’s armed forces to 1.9 million?

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