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Soviet Cold War jab to US in Nicaragua remembered

Published time: September 10, 2009 10:04
Edited time: September 10, 2009 10:04

Thousands of people have gathered in the capital of Nicaragua to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the socialist revolution that overthrew the country’s long-ruling authoritarian regime.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua's president and one of the leaders of the revolution, attended the celebrations. Supporters waved his party's red and black flags and held banners praising the government's focus on social programs.

Exactly three decades ago, the U.S.-backed dictator was ousted and the revolutionaries enlisted Soviet help to resist American influence.

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The Soviet Union won that round, driving the US back.

In 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the US-backed Somoza family dictatorship. People celebrated the start of a new life with new friends – the USSR an important one among them.

Oleg Nechiporenko was a military adviser on Nicaragua for the Soviet Minister of Internal Affairs in 1984-85. He believes that “Nicaragua was like a red rag to America”.

“They didn’t want another Cuba in their backyard – a country with a US-hostile policy. There was information about possible attacks from the US. We were on high alert,” Nechiporenko recalls.

To resist American pressure, the USSR sent its best intelligence service members to Nicaragua – and $3 billion worth of weapons.

Yury Drozdov was behind the creation of the special KGB force “Vympel”. It was deployed in ‘troubled’ regions such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Laos and Angola.

He says the force was only used in “emergencies, where other methods had failed to stabilize the situation. Nicaragua was one of these hot spots”.

“America’s subversives were more active than ever before. We had to learn about our enemy as well as about our Nicaraguan friends. It was a short mission – but a serious challenge for our guys,” Drozdov says.

Asked how successful the Soviet mission in Nicaragua was, Drozdov just gives a cunning smile, Nechiporenko is more forthcoming.

He says the USSR’s interference not only helped Nicaragua to escape a military conflict, but saved the whole region from instability.

“We waited – but the US didn’t attack Nicaragua! And that was mainly because of the Soviet Union’s support. The times when you could brandish your missiles were over. And America understood that pretty well,” Nechiporenko says.

Valery Nikolaenko was the Soviet ambassador to Nicaragua at the end of the Sandinistas’ rule. He says the revolution of 1979 shaped the country’s future political life.

“The victory of the revolution was a turning point for Nicaragua. But I think the most important achievement was a staggering increase in people’s self-consciousness. People started to believe they could create their own and their country’s future,” Nikolaenko says.

After a break following the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between Russia and Nicaragua began afresh. The two countries with a common past are now looking forward to a common future.