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Nicaragua, Russia to Hold Military Exercises, Lavrov Says

APNicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, left, and Lavrov looking on during a meeting in Managua, Sunday, Feb. 14.

Russia and Nicaragua will hold joint military exercises, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on the sidelines of talks with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega during a working visit to Latin America, RIA-Novosti reported Monday.

The planned exercises could anger the United States, which considers Latin America as part of its traditional sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin published an article Monday in Kommersant denying a report in the newspaper last week that Russia may invest in Cuba if the island nation recognizes Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries.

Following a brief war in August 2008, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia's independence and persuaded Nicaragua and Venezuela to follow suit.

Russia has been intensely courting Latin American countries. The leaders of Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba all visited Moscow last year to renew bilateral contacts. Russian firms, especially state-owned ones, have secured lucrative contracts in electricity and oil and gas sectors.

In the fall of 2008, Moscow sent two strategic bombers and several warships to Venezuela for joint exercises in what appeared to be a retaliatory move after the United States sent warships to the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.

Lavrov began his tour across Latin American countries last week in Cuba and Nicaragua. The minister arrived in Guatemala on Monday in what was Russia's first official visit to the country. He was to visit Mexico on Tuesday and Wednesday, RIA-Novosti said.

Russia and Guatemala on Monday signed a bilateral agreement on combating drug trafficking.

Russia and Nicaragua will also cooperate in fighting terrorism and organized crime, as well as in investments, Lavrov said. Russia will supply Nicaragua with humanitarian aid, including medicine and mine-clearing equipment, he said.

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