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Russia Draws Closer To Latin American Leftists

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin met with Russian allies in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin met with Russian allies in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Russia and Nicaragua have signed an agreement on visa-free travel between the two countries, in Moscow’s latest move to increase its ties in Latin America.

In Managua on July 28, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin signed the agreement granting visa-free travel for Nicaraguans to Russia, making reciprocal the rights already granted to Russians in April. Also signed were agreements on energy projects and boosting bilateral trade.

Sechin was effusive in praising Russian-Nicaraguan ties.

"I would like to express our deep satisfaction with the positive dynamics in the development in our diplomatic relations,” Sechin said. “We in Russia are highly committed to building a productive relationship with Nicaragua."

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has in the past spoken with similar enthusiasm for the two countries’ relations, praising Russia for "illuminating the planet" while at the same time condemning the United States for using military force to "shatter" countries.

Nicaragua is the only country apart from Russia to have recognized the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, pleasing Moscow but offending Washington. Managua also stood by Russia in its war with Georgia last summer.

Sechin's trip can be seen as rewarding Nicaragua for its support over Georgia, as well as increasing Russian influence in Latin America.

A day earlier, Sechin visited Caracas, where he saw another anti-American leader, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. There, he signed a military cooperation agreement which will see more Russian arms delivered to Venezuela.

Venezuela has already acquired some $4.4 billion worth of arms from Russia, including Sukhoi fighter jets and T-72 tanks. That makes it presently the biggest purchaser of Russian arms in the world.

The military information service Jane's says the new deal will provide Venezuela with enough armored fighting vehicles and tanks to double its national inventory.

This huge arms buildup is taking place as regional tensions are rising over the deteriorating relations between Caracas and neighboring Colombia.

In the latest escalation, Colombia's pro-Washington President Alvaro Uribe has reopened allegations that Chavez is supplying arms to the FARC guerrilla movement. Uribe claims that anti-tank rockets originating from Venezuela have been found at the rebels' jungle camps.

The Swedish manufacturers of the rockets, Saab-Bofors, have confirmed that they delivered the weapons to Venezuela in the 1980s.

Chavez has denied passing on arms to FARC, but the accusation has further heightened regional tensions, and led to worries that Venezuela may be tempted to use some of the vast array of modern weaponry it has acquired from Russia against Colombia.