TODAY NICARAGUA – US officials are keeping a keen eye on a Russian complex nestled on the edge of a volcanic crater in Nicaragua.
The center, which is believed to be a satellite station, has been built near the Laguna de Nejapa in Managua – the capital.
The Washington Post reports the local government described the complex as, ‘simply a tracking site of the Russian version of a GPS satellite system’, but not everyone is convinced it isn’t something more sinister.
‘Clearly there’s been a lot of activity, and it’s on the uptick now,’ a US official and expert on Central America, said.
Other officials said there are concerns the hub could be a ‘dual use’ facility, meaning it could house equipment and workers with the ability to conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens.
From where the compound is located, it offers those who are based there a clear view of the US Embassy about 10 miles away in the heart of Managua.
One local spoke about the type of people working at the GPS center.
‘I have no idea,’ she told the Times, when asked about rumors it was a spy center, before adding: ‘They are Russian, and they speak Russian, and they carry around Russian apparatuses.’
The increase in activity is the latest in a growing string of similar upticks by Putin’s government in recent years – including sending troops into Crimea, backing Ukrainian separatists, and the country’s involvement in Syria and Iraq.
Security experts, according to the Times, believe this could be different however, as it could be a direct response to American activity in Eastern Europe.
And while the US is not entirely alarmed, it is on alert – and acting accordingly. A new State Department chief appointed to the landlocked country was moved there from the Russian desk.
Other American officials, the Times reports, who have recently been sent to Nicaragua speak Russian or have experience in the former Soviet state.
The US and Russia have a long and complicated history with Nicaragua, as the Soviet Union backed rebels during the Cold War to overthrow the American-supported dictator, Anastazio Somoza in 1979.
The CIA was quick to respond at threw its weight behind rebels known as ‘contras’ – who fought against the Soviet-friendly Sandinistas.
In the war that followed, tens of thousands were killed.
And in recent years, Russia has worked in the country to reestablish its foothold, which largely disappeared after the Soviet Union fell.
Putin’s government has donated everything from wheat to buses to Nicaragua – support which was seen by many intelligence officials as an attempt by the Russians to have a military presence in the heart of Central America.
It has also sold tanks and other military equipment to the Nicaraguan government.
The Times reports experts on the country and believe there are about 250 Russian military personnel currently stationed there.
Juan Gonzalez told the newspaper America and other countries nearby are right to be worried about just what Russia is up to.
‘The United States and countries of the region should be concerned,’ Gonzalez – who was deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama – said.
‘Nicaragua offers a beachhead for Russia to expand its intel capabilities and election meddling close to the United States.’
Article originally appeared on Todaynicaragua.com and is republished here with permission.