Central America has received little attention in the Russia Federation’s ‘return’ to Latin America. The region’s small population and underdeveloped markets make it relatively uninteresting for a far-off country like Russia. Yet, in recent years, Russia has intensified and diversified its engagement with Central America, expanding beyond Moscow’s traditional partner, the Republic of Nicaragua. Central American leaders want more trade and investment with Russia as Moscow seeks to bolster its presence in the Caribbean. However, tense relations between Managua and its neighbors could make Moscow’s defense cooperation with Nicaragua counterproductive. Seeking to become a significant player in the region, Moscow is set to expand its presence in Central America through bilateral and multilateral channels, a move that will likely affect the region’s conflicts.
By increasing its influence in Central America, Moscow advances its geopolitical ambitions and diplomatic needs by demonstrating the Russian Federation’s global reach, diminishing U.S. hegemony in Latin America, and diversifying diplomatic relations after the annexation of Crimea damaged Moscow’s relationship with the West.
Since the 2010s, most Central American states have courted Russia for investment and trade. This trend reinforced itself by the end of the decade as Moscow became interested in other Central American states beyond its traditional partner of the Republic of Nicaragua, which has been mired in domestic political crisis since 2018.
Current tensions between Russia and the West have not led to a Cold War-like situation in Central America. Central American countries are not choosing between Moscow and Washington, instead seeking good relations with both.
Russia has yet to become a strategic player in Central America. In countries other than Nicaragua, its security and defense cooperation are unsubstantial. Nevertheless, countries such as the Republic of El Salvador and the Republic of Guatemala have increased cooperation with Moscow on matters of counter-narcotics.