Vladimir Putin visits Nicaragua as part of Latin American swing
Russian leader thumbs his nose at Ukraine sanctions in four-nation trip
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise stop in Nicaragua after visiting Cuba on a trip seen by some analysts as his way of thumbing his nose at Brussels and Washington, which have slapped sanctions on some of his closest allies over the Ukrainian conflict.
Putin later arrived in Buenos Aires, where he was to hold talks with President Cristina Fernandez. He will head to Brazil today, where he will take part in a summit of the BRICS group of emerging countries - an agenda that neatly aligns with his push for a multipolar world at a time when the Ukraine crisis has brought Moscow-Washington relations to a post-cold-war low.
Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, whose country was close to the Soviet Union under the Sandinista regime of the 1980s, welcomed Putin at Managua's airport along with his wife.
"This is the first time that a Russian president visits Nicaragua," a beaming Ortega said at a brief airport media event. Through an interpreter Putin said that his government intends to continue strengthening economic ties with Nicaragua.
Putin said before the trip that he has his eye on Latin America's oil and bauxite, and plans to woo regional leaders with offers of increased Russian investment and trade in return.
Moscow was seeking comprehensive technological partnerships with Latin America in the oil and gas sector, hydropower, nuclear energy, aircraft construction and the bio pharmaceutical industry, Putin told Cuba's state news agency Prensa Latina.
Analysts say Russia will likely seek a stake in Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale formation, an oil and gas field estimated to contain the equivalent of 22.8 billion barrels of oil, potentially one of the largest finds in history.
Putin arrived in Nicaragua after visiting Havana, where he and Cuban President Raul Castro witnessed the signing of a dozen bilateral agreements, including for oil exploration off the island's coast, creating an international airline hub in Cuba and supplying equipment for two Cuban thermoelectric plants worth US$1.6 billion.
Following Putin's arrival early on Friday, the two men visited a small cemetery that holds the remains of Soviet soldiers who died of illness or accident while serving in Cuba during the cold war.
The Russian leader then met Castro's older brother Fidel, the 87-year-old father of the Cuban Revolution.
According to Russian sources, Putin said they had a "long and very interesting conversation" on international politics and bilateral relations.
In recent years, Moscow has sought to revive ties with the Caribbean island, whose economy has been saddled with a US embargo since 1962 and is growing less than the government expected, despite recent free-market reforms.
Ahead of the visit, Russia wrote off 90 per cent of Cuba's Soviet-era debt of more than US$30 billion. Havana for its part has sided with its old ally Russia in the Ukraine conflict.