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Russian President Vladimir Putin with then-Chinese President Hu Jintao

WASHINGTON – As Russia continues to take strategic initiatives that put the United States on the defensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin is teaming up with China to help construct a trans-oceanic canal in Nicaragua that gives Moscow an even greater foothold in Washington’s area of influence.

The prospect comes as Moscow not only intends more massive arms sales in Latin America but, as WND recently reported, moves to establish a base in Nicaragua besides using existing facilities for refueling for aircraft and port calls for Russian warships.

In addition to Nicaragua, Moscow also is looking to establish bases in Cuba and Venezuela.

The establishment of permanent Russian bases and a major Russian presence in the Western Hemisphere will challenge U.S. policies and threaten to diminish Washington’s influence in the region.

And like a repeat of events leading up to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, it will give Moscow a basis to stage offensive weapons in the Western Hemisphere, placing another formidable challenge to U.S. homeland defenses from potential missile threats.

Moving into U.S. turf

Moscow’s focus has been on areas contiguous to Russia, until now.

“The Russian Federation considers itself to be a global power that is active everywhere and that, whatever Russia’s leadership might publicly claim, is challenging the United States anywhere that it can,” said Stephen Blank of the Washington think-tank Jamestown Foundation.

“One such arena is Latin America,” Blank said. “Even as the Ukrainian crisis rages, Moscow is steadily trying to increase its profile throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

Moscow’s Latin American focus for establishing a base will be Nicaragua. Last April, Russian legislators agreed to legislation to set up a satellite navigation monitoring system in that country.

It is supposed to set up a network of land-based control stations in Nicaragua to monitor and augment the accuracy of navigation satellites in Earth orbit.

However, analysts also believe the Nicaraguan facility is to become a substitute for the electronic tracking center at Lourdes, Cuba which Moscow gave up a decade ago.

Russia’s military initiative and prospect of involvement in building a new canal come as Iran similarly has announced that its own warships will be patrolling waters off the U.S. coast and will use ports in the same countries.

Not a ‘neutral’ act

In drawing even closer to Nicaragua and Latin America generally, Russia has teamed up with China, which has been tapped to build the trans-oceanic canal through that country as an alternative to the Panama Canal.

As currently planned, China would do the construction while Russia would provide security and take on other yet undefined roles in connection with the canal.

In bringing in the Russians, Chinese businessman Wang Jing, who has a concession to build the canal in Nicaragua, also is said to hold a concession to build a deep water port in Crimea, a strategic area of Ukraine which recently was annexed to the Russian Federation.

According to Blank, Nicaraguan opposition deputy Eliseo Nunez Morales said that the planned Nicaragua Grand Canal project doesn’t have a “declaration of neutrality.”

In the event of a conflict, the maritime route would not remain neutral. In addition, the canal concession also allows for the establishment of a military base.

“Therefore, granting Russia the security concession could be a cover for a military base, which, in turn, would afford excellent cover for the introduction of a host of covert agents and programs and for laundering criminally obtained profits,” Blank asserted.

In addition, the legal framework surrounding the canal allows for conducting “business without paying taxes,” Victor Hugo Tinoco, another Nicaraguan opposition deputy, told the newspaper La Prensa.

Blank commented: “In other words, it provides a platform for massive corruption within the project as well as the government, potentially with both Russian and Chinese money.”

In addition, potentially large deposits of natural gas in the Caribbean Sea near Nicaragua also have peaked Russian interest.

The underlying concern is that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who is close to the Russians, could turn Nicaragua into a Russian base of operations.

“This combination of arms sales, military installations and large-scale economic, infrastructural and energy projects is a hallmark of Russian policy,” Blank said. “They are well-tested instruments by which Moscow seeks to permanently leverage ‘friendly states’ into partners or, more bluntly, clients.”

The Nicaragua Grand Canal is but one of many projects to which the Russians are linking up with the Chinese to economically penetrate the Western Hemisphere.

“This phenomenon,” Blank said, “combined with Russia’s unremitting efforts to wage ‘asymmetric war’ against the United States globally and in its neighborhood, should at least disturb the dogmatic slumbers of those in Washington who have hitherto neglected to ponder Moscow’s goals in Nicaragua and across Latin America.”

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