In case you were wondering: no, the former-Soviet navy didn’t use to send warships to visit Nicaragua, back in the day. Although the Nicaragua of the 1980s under Daniel Ortega was a client of the Soviet Union, Moscow didn’t send naval task forces to visit back then. Soviet navy ships were in Cuba on a regular basis, but running the Russian navy around a Central American circuit is a new thing.
And what a thing it is. Russia and Nicaragua can’t do this quietly. They have to make headlines (except in the United States, where for all the mainstream media audience knows, this never even happened).
Nicaragua has maritime territorial disputes with, among others, Costa Rica and Colombia. (The latter disputes involve offshore islands.) Both nations watched with consternation when the Russian naval task group of Slava-class cruiser Moskva visited Corinto, Nicaragua in mid-August, and Russian navy officers announced political support for Nicaragua (video available at the link):
Russia and Nicaragua are two friendly countries. If it is necessary to support Nicaragua, and the political decision is made, we will support them.The video is described further:
In the same video, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is seen waving from the deck [of one of the Russian ships], escorted by a Russian official, and then the officers go on to describe the kind of weapons the ships carry.The Russians are quite savvy enough to avoid being depicted out of context, so we can assume the implications of this news video have their blessing.
We can assume so for another reason: the Russian task group visit was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Nicaraguan navy’s founding, and Ortega chose that occasion to announce that he would be making a territorial claim against Costa Rica to the coastal province of Guanacaste, in the International Court of Justice.
So don’t hold back, Moscow; tell us why you’re really sending warships over here for port visits. Worth noting: this all happened before President Obama came out and started vacillating trenchantly about Syria. The show of armed Russian partisanship wasn’t a reaction to Obama’s posture in the Mediterranean.
The Moskva task group also visited Venezuela, as planned. Moskva’s was the second visit to Venezuela in Russian navy history, the first having been in 2008. Moskva was originally scheduled to visit the Cape Verde Islands, off northwest Africa, following her swing through Central America. But according to Russia Today, Moskva’s tasking was changed in early September, when she was dispatched from her Atlantic transit directly to the coast of Syria.
(Also of note: another Russian cruiser, Varyag, was pulled out of the International Fleet Review coming up in Australia in October in order to head for the Syrian coast to relieve Moskva. Varyag is a Pacific Fleet warship, homeported in Vladivostok. Moskva will head back to her homeport in the Black Sea.)
China getting some of that action
Meanwhile, in early September, China dispatched a task group of operational warships (i.e., not training ships or a hospital ship) to Latin America for port visits in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. The destroyer Lanzhou and frigate Liuzhou reportedly crossed the equator on 11 September north of the Bismarck Archipelago (Papua New Guinea) – always an exciting moment in a sailor’s career. (Welcome to the Shellback club, shipmates.) The first port visit is to be in Valparaiso, Chile, and based on the last reported position on 11 September, it should start pretty soon.
This voyage marks the second such operation by the Chinese navy. The first occurred in the fall of 2009, when a Chinese naval task group visited Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.
We can probably expect the Chinese officers to behave with more subtlety and decorum than their Russian counterparts. (If only because the Chinese won’t be visiting Daniel Ortega.)
In other maritime news, Iranian warships conducted another in a series of now-routine port visits in Sudan last week. The warships are deployed for antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, visited Vietnam and Thailand this month to discuss increasing maritime-security cooperation. (Ironically, September 2013 marks the 82nd anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, which was launched 19 September 1931.)
An EU court ruled on Monday that the European Commission hasn’t sufficiently justified its sanctions on Iranian shipping, and is required to lift the sanctions – possibly rendering moot Iran’s success at evading the sanctions anyway.
The Russian navy reported on Monday that it has found a new island in the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the Arctic.
The magnitude 7.7 earthquake that hit Pakistan on Tuesday created a tiny new island off the Pakistani coast, near the port of Gwadar.
Oracle Team USA won the 34th Americas Cup on Wednesday in a remarkable comeback victory over New Zealand. At one point, Team USA was down 1-8 to the Emirates New Zealand team. The winning final brought a 9-8 victory. The win marked the 30th by a United States team in the race’s 162-year history.
J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,” Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.