Nicaragua and Russia Resume And Deepen Military Ties

As the United States continues to supply Ukraine openly and generously with weapons and other materials in the midst of its war with Russia, it appears Moscow is rekindling a military relationship with Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government recently announced a new military collaboration with Russia. Beginning in July, more Russian troops, aircraft and ships will start arriving in the Central American nation. Officially, the Nicaraguan government is labeling the program a “military exchange, instruction, and training initiative to support humanitarian aid operations.” Between the lines, however, is the unstated intention to transform Nicaragua into a hub for Russian forces in the Caribbean region. Coincidentally, the announcement comes as relations between Managua and Washington continue to deteriorate. Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, certainly to friend of the United States, will use the program to annoy the US and relieve Nicaragua’s economic troubles, which he blames the United States for.

NATO expansion and the war in Ukraine are providing Russia with all the motivation needed to project military power in the backyard of the United States. This strategy is similar to the one pursued by the Soviet Union in the 1980s during Ortega’s first tenure as Nicaragua’s leader. During that period of time, the US mined Nicaraguan harbors to harass and dissuade Eastern Bloc shipping and undertook other covert activities to frustrate Soviet efforts to establish a toehold in Central America. The effort was ultimately successful, though it nearly caused the downfall of the Reagan administration through the Iran-Contra affair.

This time around, geopolitical dynamics are somewhat different, yet the US would be wrong to ignore an increased Russian presence in Nicaragua. Especially given the free rein the Nicaraguan government appears ready to allow Russian forces to operate with. Decree 10-2022 approved by the Ortega-controlled legislature authorizes Russian military forces to “patrol” Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Even though Russia has lost tremendous amounts of international support and respect, the prospect of MiGs and Russian warships operating in such close proximity to US waters and territory is too tempting to pass up. For Ortega, the new phase of military cooperation between Russia and Nicaragua gives him a propaganda victory which could entice otherwise reluctant international companies and nation-states to invest in Nicaragua.

Caribbean Crises Update 14 July, 2021

The United States is now faced with a pair of crises in the Caribbean that have cropped up within a week of each other. In Haiti, a chaotic situation in the aftermath of President Moise’s assassination is creating conditions the interim-government (legitimate or not) is not equipped to handle. A request has gone out to Washington DC and the United Nations for troops to safeguard the island’s infrastructure and keep the violent gangs in check. The US has not responded the way many observers and Haitians have expected. There’s a historical precedent of US military intervention on the island nation following the assassination or overthrow of a Haitian president. The presence of US troops has more often than not been the key to stabilizing the nation. Unfortunately, the flip side of that coin is that Haiti often returns to chaos following the withdrawal of foreign peacekeepers.

This time around, Washington is increasingly reluctant to send troops into Haiti, despite repeated requests by Haitian politicians. The nation is entering a non-interventionist periods, similar to the 1930s and 1970s, meaning that there’s little possibility of the US committing troops, even in our own backyard, unless our national interests are directly threatened. The Biden administration is sending in civilians from multiple US government agencies in the hopes that they can help stabilize Haiti before it is too far gone. Given how the situation on the ground in Haiti is resembling a power keg more and more with every passing day, there’s no reason to expect them to find success.

Author’s Note: My power is flickering so I’m going to end this prematurely tonight. There are heavy storms passing through. I’ll pick up on it again tomorrow afternoon. Apologies. –Mike

Post-Pandemic Storm Clouds are Gathering Now

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Both at home and abroad the shape of the post-pandemic world is gradually coming into focus. Geopolitically, this translates to a wave of unforeseen change likely to be in the cards for the later months of 2020 and stretching into early 2022 perhaps. How large, and encompassing this wave will be remains to be seen. A host of variables are going to influence the form, and power of what is to come.

China appears to have a difficult road in front of it as global opinion turns against Beijing and its handling of the pandemic. Suspicion, and mistrust of China and its intentions are nothing new. But the fact that China might’ve been complicit in knowingly transmitting COVID-19 to areas beyond its national borders is making the world take notice, and question just what China’s long-term political, economic, and military goals are. It would also appear that a major move is coming soon concerning Hong Kong. I’ll touch on that more either over the weekend or next week.

In Russia, Vladimir Putin is coming to terms with the reality that his rule will not last forever, and the vast majority of foreign adventures that Russia has engaged in over the last fifteen years have ended badly for his country. Ukraine is a shining example of how Russia’s ambitions have collided head-on with reality. Nothing has been gained after six years of low-intensity conflict between Russian-supported proxy groups and the Ukrainian military. It is true that Crimea has been annexed, but the move has not yet produced any strategic advantage for Russia or its plans for the region. In short, Russia is going to have to make a move somewhere in the near future to jumpstart its long term geopolitical plans. How Moscow moves in Libya, and Syria over the summer could tell a lot about what is to come.

For the United States, a potential crisis is brewing close to home. A group of Iranian tankers is currently in the Atlantic and heading west. These ships, carrying gasoline and related products, are on a course for Venezuela where they will be offloaded as part of a cash-for-oil/gas deal currently in place between Tehran and Caracas. Earlier this week, the US announced it is deploying warships, and maritime patrol aircraft to the Caribbean as the ships grown nearer. In response, Venezuela announced its warships will escort the tankers to Venezuelan ports. The US is wary of these recent moves given it has stringent economic sanctions in place against both nations. There’s growing concern in Iran and Venezuela that the US will attempt to interdict the tankers while they are in the Atlantic and by early next week it will be clear if a confrontation is likely or not.

Iran Warns US Against Interfering With its Tankers

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Iran is growing concerned about the prospect of potential US actions and measures over an Iranian fuel shipment to Venezuela. Yesterday, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif lodged a complaint with the United Nations warning against the movement of US warships to the Caribbean as Iranian tankers carrying gasoline and other products approach the region. The shipment is part of a larger deal struck between Iran and Venezuela, two nations which the US has imposed oil export sanctions on. Iran also transmitted a warning against any US threat against the Iranian ships, sending the message through the Swiss embassy in Tehran which handles US interests in Iran. On Saturday, Iran’s Fars News reported it had received information that US warships are in the Caribbean for a ‘possible confrontation with Iran’s tankers.’

Iran’s shipment comes as Venezuela is struggling with a major gas shortage. Although US sanctions have strangled Venezuela’s economy, the government of Nicolas Maduro has stubbornly refused to make any concessions to Washington which might ease the restrictions somewhat. Iran is dealing with US sanctions itself and Venezuela is one of the few nations willing to accept Iranian shipments. The formula is simple: Venezuela needs the gasoline, and Iran desperately needs money. The fact that Iran is willing to risk a major US response to this attempt to undermine sanctions speaks volumes of the Islamic Republic’s present condition. The combination of US economic sanctions, domestic unrest, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a perfect storm of sorts, and the future looks bleak, and uncertain for the Tehran regime.

At present, the tankers carrying Iranian products are presently in the Mediterranean and moving west towards the Strait of Gibraltar. It will be some time before they exit the Med, cross the Atlantic, and are prepared to enter the Caribbean. Iran’s behavior in the coming days should offer some indications about Tehran’s plans regarding the shipment to Venezuela.

Guaido’s Costly Error

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A month ago Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido seemed to be perched on the edge of a major victory that would eject Nicolas Maduro, and his corrupt regime from power. He had almost single-handedly molded the opposition into a viable counterweight to Maduro.  He had earned the unfettered support of the Venezuelan people, and the international community. Guaido’s star was rising and Maduro’s hold on power was growing more tenuous. Momentum was clearly on the side of the opposition, and the nightmare of Maduro seemed close to coming to an end.

But then Guaido overestimated the level of support the opposition had garnered from the military. He then launched an ill-fated ‘military uprising’ against Maduro, and shortly thereafter, everything came crashing down.

To be fair, an uprising was being prepared by the opposition, and significant military support was expected. More time was needed before it would be ready though. Guaido disregarded this crucial fact and launched the uprising early, basing his decision on reports that Maduro was planning to arrest the opposition leadership in a matter of hours. The military supporters balked and nearly all senior officers withheld their support. As a result, the uprising was stillborn.

Two weeks after the ill-fated uprising, many opposition leaders have sought asylum in foreign embassies around Caracas. Anti-Maduro protests are drawing less and less participants in the streets as the government crackdown shifts into high gear. In a surprise move over the weekend, Guaido has asked Washington for a direct relationship with the US military. This is officially intended to help increase the pressure on Maduro. Unofficially, it’s an act of desperation. The very idea of a foreign leader having close relations with the US military is alien. Even though the Trump administration fully supports Guaido, the president is not about to order US Southern Command to take orders from him as they would from Trump.

Guaido dropped the ball when he prematurely began the uprising and now the opposition is reeling as he attempts to recover.

Whether he can or not is another matter entirely.