HAVANA, CUBA – JULY 11: President of Russia Vladimir Putin (L) greets President of Cuba Raul Castro (R) during an official visit at Revolution Palace on July 11, 2014 in Havana, Cuba.
July 14th, 2014 (InsideCostaRica.com) Russia’s president began a six-day tour of Latin American countries on Friday, and made an unscheduled visit to Nicaragua.
Vladimir Putin’s first stop Friday was Cuba where he met with Cuban President Raul Castro.
The two countries signed a number of accords, including one that forgives 90 percent of Cuba’s Russian debt, totaling more than $30 billion, and another that allows for the exploration of oil off Cuba’s northern coast.
Putin also had an hour-long meeting with Fidel Castro, the “Father of the Cuban Revolution.”
The Russian leader then flew to Nicaragua Friday night for a one-hour meeting with President Daniel Ortega.
“This is the first time that a Russian president visits Nicaragua,” Ortega said glowingly during a brief media event at the airport, where he welcomed Putin along with his wife and the head of Nicaragua’s army.
Putin said his government intends to continue strengthening economic ties with Nicaragua. Before his trip, Putin had said he was particularly interested in Latin America’s oil and bauxite.
Costa Rica earlier this year expressed its concern over deepening military ties between Russia and Nicaragua. Russia has its eyes on expanding its military presence by establishing military bases in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba according to a statement earlier this year by Russian Defense Minister, Serguei Shoigu.
Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, has always maintained friendly relations with Russia, which for its part has donated military hardware to the country and participated in training and joint exercises.
For Costa Rica, the idea of a Russian military base in Nicaragua is worrying.
“It’s part of the plan of intimidation that Nicaragua is pushing in the region, arming themselves with the most modern weapons and equipment […] Russia has been involved in supporting Nicaragua on several occasions and would supply [naval assets] to Nicaragua,” Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo told the digital newspaper, CRHoy.com, earlier this year.
After his one hour meeting with Ortega, Putin flew to Argentina to meet with President Cristina Fernandez.
Putin’s journey to Latin America comes as he is under pressure from the West to help restrain pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and urge them to find a negotiated solution.
Putin was in Rio de Janeiro Sunday for the World Cup final where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was set to officially hand over World Cup responsibilities to the Russian leader, whose country hosts the next global tournament in 2018.
The Russian president plans to attend a summit of the BRICS group of nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – being held in Brazil.
VOA contributed to this report.