Why Argentina Is Suddenly Getting So Cozy With Russia
Despite serious financial difficulties, Argentina is negotiating major arms purchases from Russia. Relations with the U.S., in the meantime, have gone from bad to worse.
May 05, 2015
SANTIAGO DE CHILE — There have always been regional rivalries in the Americas. Between certain countries, historical tensions persist, suspicions run deep, and governments remain on guard against real or perceived threats, including arms purchases, which often prompt reciprocal actions.
Examples abound. In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union sought to use Cuba's Fidel Castro regime to install missiles capable of reaching Washington, D.C. The situation produced a frightening standoff. Fortunately, prudence prevailed, diminishing the threat of nuclear war and helping forge an outlook that later helped put an end to the Cold War.
Tensions, nevertheless, remained. In the early 1980s, war broke out over the Falklands (the Malvinas to the Argentines). In that adventure, Argentina could count, and still can, on the support of most Latin Americans, even if it faced defeat at the hands of a European power. Before that, Argentina nearly went to war with Chile over an archipelago to the south of both countries. Mediation by the Vatican helped resolve the impasse peacefully.
Personal and provocative
These days Argentina finds itself in a different kind of jam. A regional economic crisis is taking a major toll on the South American nation, which is also increasingly at odds with the United States. At certain moments, U.S.-Argentine tensions have even gotten a bit personal — and unnecessarily provocative. Four years ago, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman showed up, lock cutters in hand, to search a U.S. military plane in Ezeiza airport carrying items sent in as part of an official deal to train Buenos Aires police.
The government of President Cristina Kirchner has in recent years become much more anti-American, which explains in part its affinities with the socialist governments running Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. Her speech at last month's Summit of the Americas in Panama was exemplary in its virulence and similar in tone to the declarations made by the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia. She spared no adjectives or charges every time she mentioned the United States.
Cristina Kirchner and Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires, 2014 — Photo: Martin Zabala/Xinhua/ZUMA
Another confirmation of Kirchner's realignments, despite the fact that she is nearing the end of her second and presumably final term, is her quest for a new ally in President Vladimir Putin. He too is at loggerheads with the West — over Ukraine, Crimea and U.S. and EU sanctions. Kirchner recently expressed support for Russia, declaring, "We believe that the history of state-to-state sanctions has not given results. Quite the contrary."
Further emphasizing her country's estrangement from the U.S., she announced on a recent visit to Moscow that Argentine and Russian troops and police would undertake joint maneuvers "for the first time in history" — supposedly to pursue "an international drug trafficking gang," as Clarín reported on April 24.
Russia and Argentina have signed a pact to protect secret information on their military and technical collaborations, and to produce military hardware and technical and "experimental" equipment.
Just a big distraction?
Clarín reports that Argentina has in recent years purchased two Russian military helicopters and plans to buy three more, despite problems with financing, as revealed by the defense minister himself. The Argentine navy has acquired four patrol boats for the South Atlantic and logistical support tasks in the Antarctic. Sailors are to be trained in the ports of Murmansk and Archangel. Meanwhile, a deputy security minister told the daily about links being found between Colombian, Mexican, Balkan and Russian criminal gangs, and how their commerce was increasingly passing through Argentina.
At the same time, the Argentine government has radicalized its rhetoric on recovering the Falklands, provoking diplomatic incidents with the United Kingdom. Some perceive the deals with Russia to be a possible backup for a hypothetical new attempt to retake the islands. That would create another precedent in Russian role-playing in this region: the use of its military hardware to back a new ally, a Kirchner-led Argentine government.
Or, certainly, it could all be an attempt to distract Argentines from their disgust with the scandals and incompetence associated with the Kirchner presidency. Polls and recent primary election results suggest the imminent end of a decade of rule by the Kirchner-led party. Perhaps the government is trying to buy time to come up with ideas on how to assure the impunity of senior officials — some in the very highest positions — suspected of acts of corruption.
This is the dramatic situation of a people who formerly led our continent in economy, education, health care and technological advances. And at least in the short-term, things might even get worse. One thing I do know, however, is that Argentine people, somehow or other, will eventually pull through.
America Economia is Latin America's leading business magazine, founded in 1986 by Elias Selman and Nils Strandberg. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, it features a region-wide monthly edition and regularly updated articles online, as well as country-specific editions in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.