MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) " The Nicaraguan army on Tuesday put on display one of the 50 T-72 tanks it says Russia gave the country free of charge.
The arms acquisition had drawn criticism when it was originally made public in April because the tanks purportedly would cost $80 million.
But Gen. Julio Cesar Aviles said that the tanks hadn't cost the impoverished Central American nation a dime. Aviles said the tanks came "without conditions of any kind and so our country incurs no debt at all with the acquisition."
The tanks are meant to replace Nicaragua's older T54 and T55 Russian tanks and were provided as part of a security agreement between President Daniel Ortega and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Three decades ago, then-President Ronald Reagan used the specter of Russian tanks to plead for funding for the Nicaragua Contra guerrillas who fought Ortega's leftist Sandinista government.
In 1986, Reagan asked of members of the U.S. Congress, "Will they provide the assistance the freedom fighters need to deal with Russian tanks and gunships -- or will they abandon the democratic resistance to its communist enemy?"
While the presence of Russian weapons systems was an explosive question in the 1980s, times have changed, said Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami international studies professor.
"We're no longer in the cold war ... There is no immediate or existential threat to the United States."
Russia's interest in signing a security pact with Nicaragua is clear, however, given Western involvement in the Ukraine.
"Putin is motivated by a desire to sort of re-establish a Russian presence in the Western Hemisphere because of the eastward creep of both the European Union and NATO" Bagley said. "Think of this as sort of the western edge of his response."
Questions remains as to how useful the weapons are to Nicaragua, which faces no tank threat from neighbors. Nicaragua's only disputes are largely aquatic " territorial disputes with Costa Rica over the San Juan river and a maritime limit dispute with Colombia centered on San Andres island.
"This security arrangement gives Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega some sort of street cred" said Bagley. "The tanks are just sort of an adornment on the tree."
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings