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Nicaragua: Russian espionage base opened

According to Confidencial, based on the signed agreement, Ortega ceded a part of the territory to Moscow, without state control, opening the door for the Kremlin to appoint agents of the Federal Security Service (the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB) to operate freely in the Latin American country


Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved an agreement to establish a Russia-funded and administered police training center. This measure, which the Daniel Ortega regime pushed through in mid-March, raises concerns about the real intentions behind the Russia-Nicaragua cooperation.


The construction of this center is included in a cooperation agreement between Russia and Nicaragua sent by Ortega to the National Assembly. It was quickly approved on Thursday, March 21. The text of the agreement was signed at the end of February by the Russians and Ortega during the visit of the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, General Nikolai Patrushev.


Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega (left) holds hands with Russian General Nikolai Patrushev, while First Lady Rosario Murillo looks on. Photo: Presidency

Article 6 of the agreement states that the construction or renovation of "buildings, structures and facilities" for the operation of the center "shall be carried out by the Russian party independently and at its own expense." It further clarifies that this real estate "shall be the property of the Russian Federation."


The same article declares that in the event of termination of the agreement, the property, equipment and facilities of the center will remain in the hands of the Russians, who will have "the right to use the real estate and the training center for purposes not related to the implementation" of the agreement.


Decree no. 8873, published on April 2 in the regime’s official gazette, details the agreement between Nicaragua and Russia, stressing the importance of police activity in confronting challenges and threats to public security.


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According to the agreement the goal is to train Nicaraguan police forces and those of other Latin American and Caribbean nations, Argentine news site Infobae reported. The police center will be run entirely by the Russian Interior Ministry.


“Nicaragua is Russia’s strategic ally in Central America,” Laureano Ortega Murillo, an advisor to the dictatorship and Ortega’s son, told reporters. “We position ourselves as its regional platform in all fields and we are committed to enhancing Moscow’s influence and action in our region.”


A clause in the agreement grants the Russian personnel of the new center to be exempt from any criminal, civil, or administrative liability before Nicaraguan laws, from all actions carried out in the fulfillment of their functions.


Article 7 specifies that the National Police will provide surveillance service, basic utilities, and translation at no cost to the Russians. In addition, the Police will help in registering the ownership of the land and buildings acquired by the Kremlin to establish the center, Nicaraguan newspaper Confidencial reported.


“In the post-pandemic, Ortega renewed the authorization for Russian military operations, which together with this new center evidences the strategic and geopolitical course that the dictatorship adopted,” Jorge Serrano, a member of the team of advisors of the Peruvian Congress Intelligence Commission, told Diálogo on April 8.


Espionage base


According to Confidencial, based on the signed agreement, Ortega ceded a part of the territory to Moscow, without state control, opening the door for the Kremlin to appoint agents of the Federal Security Service (the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB) to operate freely in Nicaragua.


One of the experts consulted by CONFIDENCIAL claims that, based on the articles of the agreement, the Ortega government has handed over "a piece of the country" to the Russians, since the Nicaraguan state will not have any authority over this training center, which will serve as a "façade" for other types of activities.


Article 5 of the agreement stipulates that "the training center will carry out its activity under the general direction of the head of the diplomatic representation of the Russian Federation in Nicaragua," and that operational management "will be carried out by the competent authority of the Russian party."


"The organization and conditions of the activities of the training center, the procedures for carrying out the control over and planning of its work, shall be determined by the competent authority of the Russian party," says the text. 


According to the Russia-Ortega pact, the "Russian side" will be represented by the Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation, while the Nicaraguan side will be represented by the National Police.


Another of the experts warned that if the "practical" or operational management of the center is in the hands of the Russian Interior Ministry or whoever the Russian authority designates, it opens the door to appointing an agent of the KGB, the Russian intelligence agency.


"The Ortega regime is raising the geopolitical stakes. The content, treatment and structure they plan to give to that center, seems more like a spy agency," commented the expert. "It will be the first Russian intelligence center in Central America," he added.


“Nicaragua has positioned itself as a key player for non-Western nations such as Russia, Iran, and China, acting as a kind of aircraft carrier into the region. It uses its territory to expand its influence and conduct operations in Latin America,” Serrano said.


The police training center will be a “nest of espionage” rather than a police training center, Serrano added. This would not be the first time Russia has set up an agency on Nicaraguan soil. In October 2017, it inaugurated the Russia-Nicaragua Anti-Narcotics Training Center, Confidencial reported.


In April 2017, Moscow inaugurated its global satellite navigation system known as Glonass in the Nicaraguan capital, Infobae reported. From 2013 to date, Russia has established nine of these satellite ground stations outside its territory. The last one was installed in Nicaragua.


The Russian presence in Latin America has intensified, “evidencing the activity of the Russian intelligence service in the region,” Serrano said. According to him, “evidence has been collected of these covert operations, designed to go unnoticed and avoid detection by regional authorities.”


In addition, “secret meetings have been held between Managua and Moscow to coordinate actions through their intelligence services to perpetrate attacks against the United States and against Latin American nations still aligned with democratic principles, seeking to destabilize the region in a domino effect,” Serrano added.


National Police subordinated to the Russians


One of the specialists consulted by CONFIDENCIAL highlighted the "subordinate role" that the National Police will play in the operation of this new center, since the control and definition of the training and qualification processes "will be under the authority of the Russians."


Article 7 details that the Russians will contribute:

  • Equipment, criminalistic techniques, training techniques, publications and educational, scientific and methodological materials, and other items necessary for educational activity;

  • Teachers and instructors;

  • Financial and organizational support for the operation of the center.


Meanwhile, the National Police "will provide free security, basic services and translator services."


The Police will also provide "assistance" to the Russians in registering land titles of properties acquired by the Russian Federation, as well as support in "obtaining the relevant permits and approvals" to build.


Article 5 also states that the National Police will "collaborate" in the selection of candidates from the Police of other countries, but the control over selection will be in the hands of the Russians.


"The Police will only provide [certain] services. That already indicates a difference [from the usual profile of a training center]. All control will be in the hands of the Russians," one of the experts stressed.


This is the second Russian center in Managua 


This is not the first time Russia has set up an agency in Nicaragua. In October 2017, it inaugurated the Russia-Nicaragua Anti-Narcotics Training Center, located in the Las Colinas neighborhood of Managua.


During the 44th anniversary of the Police, in September 2023, Daniel Ortega gave an award to Russian General Oleg Anatolyevich Plokhoi and stated that this first center installed by Russia helped "to stop the coup."


"The specialized military personnel carry out training with the participation of the entire Central American region, including, of course, the National Police, to better confront drug trafficking and organized crime, and to better confront the coup perpetrators," said Ortega.


The expert on citizen security issues says that the existence of a new center "does not make sense" unless the purpose is to expand the Russian presence in Nicaragua.


"The intention to expand and strengthen Russian presence in Nicaragua is apparent, not only because they are going to open another center, but because it includes a series of things that reveal that Russian intervention in Nicaragua is going to be much stronger," he adds.


Protection of the dictatorship 


Javier Melendez, director of the research center Expediente Abierto (Open File in English), explained to CONFIDENCIAL that the Russian advice and training "is geared towards protecting the dictatorship."


"Without a doubt this is serious for Nicaraguans. In addition to the spying environment supported by the Cubans, there will be a greater militarization of the police forces to continue repressing the people rather than fighting crime," Melendez added.

 

According to Melendez, the issue of Russian security advisors training police forces in autocratic countries such as Nicaragua implies risks and challenges of increased repression and human rights violations.


Melendez explained the importance of understanding that the support of Russian security forces is different from assistance provided by Western countries, in that it is not subject to democratic civilian oversight.


"There are experiences in other regions where training provided by Russian advisors has exacerbated internal conflicts in countries already facing ethnic, political or social tensions," says Melendez. 


The regulation stipulates that the new training center will perform several tasks, including different education programs for the personnel of the different police agencies. It will also organize and hold meetings, seminars, trainings and conferences, as well as other educational and scientific events in the spheres of police activity. 


According to the explanatory memorandum presented in the National Assembly, other activities will include "translation of the documents of the States who are parties, as well as materials and analysis of the fight against crime and on the maintenance of public order and public security," as well as "comparative legal analysis of the legislation of the Republic of Nicaragua and other Latin American, Central American and Caribbean countries."



Tasks and equipment


The training of foreign police forces will be carried out at the center and at different locations in Nicaragua. The main tasks of the center will include training and education of police personnel, as well as organization and holding of seminars, workshops, conferences, and other events of “educational and scientific” nature.


The Kremlin will provide the center with all necessary equipment, including forensic tools, technical teaching aids, publications, teaching, and scientific materials. It will also provide teachers, financial, and logistical support, to ensure the operation of the unit for an initial period of 10 years, the agreement details.


Change of strategy


“Russia has modified its tactics in Latin America: It has eliminated intermediaries such as Cuba or Venezuela to establish a direct connection with the Nicaraguan dictatorship, privileging its strategic position and its capacity to destabilize the region,” Serrano said. “This decision highlights the importance that the Kremlin attaches to Nicaragua in its regional strategy.”


Russia, Serrano said, will attempt to escalate any conflict in the region by using Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and other regional leaders, to facilitate its geopolitical objectives. “This strategy seeks to take advantage of existing tensions to expand its influence in the continent,” he said.


“In the face of this growing threat, the response of democracies must be to form solid alliances among their governments, recognizing and understanding the nature of the Russian threat,” Serrano concluded. “It is key to strengthen cooperation between the intelligence services of democratic nations, to take effective and joint measures.”




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