El sistema ruso de navegación satelital Glonass extiende sus estaciones por Latinoamérica

Russian satellite navigation system Glonass extends its stations in Latin America


14 | 04 | 2023


With installations already in Brazil and Nicaragua, Russia has closed agreements to install its antennas in Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina.

In the picture

Glonass commemorative stamp [Pochta Rossii].

report AMERICAN REGIONAL SECURITY, SRA 2023 /PDF version from article


° Managed by the Russian Ministry of Defense, it is presented by Moscow as military or military-technical cooperation, which in the midst of the war in Ukraine may create discomfort.

° The López Obrador government should have made it clear to Washington that the agreement was signed before the invasion and that the purpose is not to spy from its territory to the United States.

° Buenos Aires already allowed ten years ago the installation of a controversial Chinese ground space station in Patagonia and now opens the door to the Russian presence.


Russia has found in Latin America a space in which to fluff itself in the midst of the pressure it is receiving from the United States, Europe and other Western allies due to the war in Ukraine. Although in the votes held at the UN most Latin American countries have condemned the invasion (the resolution of February 23 only had the rejection of Nicaragua and the abstention of Bolivia, Cuba and El Salvador, in addition to the absence of Venezuela), in this year of war the governments of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have frequently reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin, alleging an equidistance that in reality benefits the Kremlin's position.

One area in which Russia's relationship with several of these countries has grown closer in the last year is the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System, known as Glonass, which stands for 'Globalnaya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema'. Like its American (GPS) and European (Galileo) counterparts, it requires ground stations at various locations around the globe to function properly.

GPS is owned by the U.S. Space Agency and has certain transparency protocols in the management of its ground antennas in different countries; Glonass, managed by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, is more opaque in some of its stations. In any case, this military dependence means that the commitment of some Latin American countries to the Russian system can be seen as an embrace of the Kremlin's interests in the midst of a war of aggression, condemned by the United Nations.

Russia's own Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, has placed the desired cooperation with its Latin American partners precisely in the military field. Criticizing Washington's desire to turn its hemispheric neighbors against Moscow, he declared: "The goal of this policy is to bring the region into confrontation with Russia and China, to destroy traditional ties and block new forms of cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres. Glonass is fundamental in navigation positioning for naval and air forces and for geolocation in missile launching.

Outside Russian borders, Glonass has to date nine ground stations that communicate with the system's network of satellites: four in Brazil, three in Antarctica, one in Nicaragua and one in South Africa. The first of these was installed in Brasilia in 2013; the one in Managua is from 2017. Russia has established agreements to also have stations in Venezuela, Argentina and Mexico, and also plans to locate another one in Cuba.

Nicaragua and Venezuela

Unlike the transparency with which the first of these stations was established, at campus of the University of Brasilia, the secrecy with which the station in the Nicaraguan capital was built and is operated has given rise to suspicions about a primary use of espionage that goes beyond the civilian dimension that the government of Daniel Ortega has officially attributed to it, wanting to place its supposed benefit for Nicaragua in the data that the station can contribute in subject prevention of natural disasters or even in the fight against drug trafficking.

The reference letter to the Nicaraguan facility, located near the U.S. embassy, has been a regular feature in Washington's singling out of Russia's activity in Latin America. But in the last year, the U.S. Southern Command has closely followed the Glonass-related agreements established by the Kremlin with other countries in the region and which have been highlighted in the publication promoted by that division of the Pentagon for relations with the hemisphere.

One of them is the agreement between the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the government of Nicolás Maduro, announced in December 2022, for the installation this year of a Glonass station in Venezuela. Officially it was presented as a means for Venezuelans to improve land, sea and air transportation, and to introduce advances in the agricultural and industrial sectors. This cooperation is inserted in a framework of partnership between the two countries for space exploration, C in November 2021 by the Venezuelan National Assembly and in April 2022 by the Russian Duma. This agreement is valid for five years and will be automatically extended for another five years if none of the signatories expresses otherwise.

Mexico and Argentina

If Nicaragua and Venezuela have long been perceived as close allies of Moscow, the case of agreement between Mexico and Russia is probably the most notorious from a geopolitical point of view. It is true that Mexico wishes to lead Latin America's space projection, and is the main promoter of the creation of the Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (ALCE), however the acceptance of stations that Russia will control and presumably Mexican authorities will not be able to subject to convenient scrutiny will contribute to friction with the United States. Being closer to the U.S. border than Nicaragua, Mexico could be an interesting platform for the Kremlin in any possible communications interception task.

The Russian-Mexicanagreement , signed in September 2021 and involving the Mexican Space Agency (AEM), provides for "cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes" and the installation of Glonass stations in Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wanted to deny that this partnership could lead to suspicious activities. "The truth is that these agreements are signed with all countries and do not have the purpose to spy on anyone, nor to affect the sovereignty of any nation," he declared. In any case, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has later had to clarify to Washington that the signature of the agreement with Russia was carried out before the invasion of Ukraine, in view of the concern raised in the United States about Mexico's rapprochement with Putin.

In the case of Argentina, the growing strategic relationship with the rival powers of the United States had already occurred with China -Washington points out the suspicious operation of a ground space station in Patagonia agreed in 2012 between Buenos Aires and Beijing and managed by the Chinese Army-, and then it also extended to Russia: in 2019 both countries signed a protocol for space cooperation, in which the Argentine National Commission for Space Activities (CONAE) participates. In January 2021, a agreement was announced for the installation of a Glonass station in the country.