Russia appears to be expanding its military presence in numerous foreign countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The move could add more strain on Washington-Moscow relations.
A Russian military vessel already docked at a Havana naval base this week. According to Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shogu, Moscow is looking to build military bases in Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries.
The placement of a Russian base in Nicaragua, in particular, is concerning to neighboring Costa Rica.
According to RIA Novosti, a Russian newspaper, Shoigu said that the defense ministry is “close to signing the relevant documents” with the listed countries.
Many have suggested that the move to put military bases in Asia and Latin America is meant as retaliation against the US: after the collapse of the Russian-backed Ukranian government last week, Russia may be making the point that it doesn’t need or want the US meddling in its affairs.
Moving into Latin America
Moscow’s intention to set up a military base in Nicaragua may increase tensions between that country and its neighbor, Costa Rica.
Nicaragua’s government, and president Daniel Ortega, have friendly relations with Moscow: Russia has donated some military equipment to Nicaragua’s forces and has participated in some training exercises.
However, that armament concerns Costa Rica and other Central American countries. Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Enrique Castillo, worries that “It’s part of the plan of intimidation that Nicaragua is pushing in the region, arming themselves with the most modern weapons and equipment.”
If Russia installs a military base, it could upset the balance of power in the region, providing Nicaragua with a means of coercing its neighbors; Castillo already indicated that his government has little trust in Nicaragua.
Further south, Moscow is also looking to set up shop in Venezuela, where tensions are already running high. While President Nicolas Maduro, and former President Hugo Chavez, have long had cordial relations with Russia, it’s unclear how anti-government protestors or a new government would react to a military base established by the overseas power.
Concern over Ukraine
Analysts have pointed out that Nicaragua and Cuba were Russian allies during the Cold War, suggesting that the current motivation behind placing military bases in those countries is to send a message to the US, not prepare for military action in the chosen countries: essentially, the move is more bark, less bite.
Given the recent collapse of Ukraine’s government, Russia-US tensions have risen. According to FOX, the Kremlin ordered 150,000 Russian troops to “test their combat readiness” near the Ukraine border, while the U.S. has warned Moscow against intervening in Ukraine.
The U.S. has planned to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine. Russia’s sudden decision to establish military bases may be the government’s way of saying that they’re perfectly capable of taking care of their own region of the world, without US help. The move also sends the message that Russia has powerful allies around the world, if the US decides to take action in the region.
Today the Government of Kiev asked Moscow to back off from Crimea. The Ucranian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, called of an “armed invasion” of Crimea by Russian forces.
Future for bases
Minister Shoigu’s statement to the press about the bases left room for ambiguity. As reported by RIA, Shoigu said that negotiations with indicated countries would touch on refueling ports, as well.
Some media outlets suggest that this means the supposed military bases may end up as simply increased Russian “access rights to make port calls, refuel, and possibly even make repairs to its military equipment. It is almost certainly not building actual Russian military bases in most of these countries.”
Coming weeks may reveal the details of Russia’s negotiations with the other countries on its list.