Argentina and Russia: 130 Years of Diplomatic Relations

May 5, 2015
Argentina and Russia: 130 Years of Diplomatic Relations
2015 will mark the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Argentina. There is no question but that the remarkable progress that has been made in recent years in various aspects of their bilateral cooperation is propelling Moscow and Buenos Aires onward toward new frontiers. During the official visit to Moscow of the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, on April 21-23, the two parties signed 20 documents, notably among them a Joint Statement on the Establishment of a Russian-Argentine Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

The Argentine president is charting her own course independently of the US and is working to accelerate Latin American integration under the auspices of organizations such as UNASUR, Celac, and ALBA. Hugo Dragonetti, a key government figure involved with infrastructure projects in Argentina, called Cristina Fernández’s visit to Russia «a challenge to the United States», who continues to behave as if Latin America were its own backyard.

The cooperation between Russia and Argentina is a laudable example of equal and mutually beneficial relations. Argentines have welcomed Uralmash’s proposal to work together to create a business to manufacture petroleum equipment. Russia also supplies turbines for Argentina’s hydroelectric plants. There is talk of using Russian expertise to help update the Argentine-Uruguayan Salto Grande hydroelectric plant. The Russian company Inter RAO-Export has won a tender for the right to build a new hydroelectric plant. And Rosatom has become involved in the project to construct the sixth Atucha nuclear reactor. These agreements will give Argentina access to the most up-to-date Russian technology that meets the most stringent requirements for nuclear safety. Cristina Fernández noted the importance of this deal, stating, «This is another step forward for cooperation between Argentina and Russia, and it will also allow us to obtain energy that will not be subject to fluctuations in the world market».

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government has ignored Western sanctions against Russia. Shipments of agricultural products to Russia have for the most part been unaffected, despite attempts by the US and EU to put pressure on Buenos Aires and convince Argentina to curtail its trade with Moscow. President Putin could not help mentioning this topic at a press conference, noting, «Entrepreneurs are naturally interested in launching new projects. Along with the president of Argentina, a representative delegation from the Argentine business community has arrived in Moscow. Arrangements have been made to more actively assist businesses that supply goods and services, to open manufacturing enterprises, and to further industrial cooperation. We have also agreed to hold detailed discussions on the use of national currencies in trade payments».

During Cristina Fernández’s visit, paperwork was signed to launch a cooperative program in culture and art, and initiatives in the tourism industry were coordinated. An agreement on environmental protection was reached, a memorandum of understanding between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs was approved, and the process of obtaining access to the national archives was simplified. The Russian Federal Space Agency and Argentina’s National Space Activities Commission signed an agreement to cooperate in the exploration and use of space for peaceful purposes. The project to deploy the GLONASS satellite navigation system in Argentina will be accelerated.

The presidents of Russia and Argentina expressed their concern over the tragic events in eastern Ukraine. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has supported Russia’s position on Ukraine. The Malvinas archipelago, which is an extremely painful issue for Argentina, was brought up during the talks in Moscow. Vladimir Putin stated that «Russia supports Argentina’s efforts to hold direct bilateral negotiations with Great Britain in order to speedily resolve the dispute over the Malvinas Islands». A joint statement released by the two presidents included a declaration condemning the militarization of the South Atlantic, where warships and submarines from the US and UK regularly flex their nuclear-missile muscles before a South American audience.

The media paid special attention to the negotiations between Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and his Argentine counterpart, Agustín Oscar Rossi. Shoigu feels that «a high degree of cooperation between Russia and Argentina makes it possible to coordinate actions in the international arena and also opens up prospects for more extensive partnership on military and military-technical matters». There is great potential for joint efforts in military education and officer training. The Argentine defense minister emphasized that he is «primed for lengthy and intensive work on a wide range of issues». The ministers signed an interagency agreement on military cooperation, which sets the parameters for a bilateral partnership on military matters.

The governments of Argentina and Russia signed an agreement to work together to protect classified information pertaining to military-technical cooperation. In regard to potential purchases of Russian arms, Oscar Rossi mentioned the possibility of Argentina acquiring three new Mil Mi-17E helicopters. Two helicopters are already being used by the Argentine air force and have proven their value. Since December 2014, rumors have been circulating in the media about the possibility of Argentina purchasing Sukhoi Su-24 frontline bombers from Russia. And those rumors continue. This is most likely due to Argentina’s upcoming presidential campaign (the election will be held on Oct. 25). The race for office is on, and the battle for votes has already begun. Daniel Scioli, the governor of the province of Buenos Aires and an ally of Cristina Fernández, has announced that he is campaigning to be the nominee from the Front for Victory government coalition. In his stump speeches he promises not to stray from Kirchner’s strategic course.

Nevertheless, Defense Minister Oscar Rossi has decided to run against him and is the first of the presidential candidates to present an action plan for 2015-2019. But Russia intends to fight for the right of the candidate from the Front for Victory coalition (founded by Néstor Kirchner in 2003) to be elected. «Our [strategic] challenge», claimed Rossi, «is to continue the policy of creating new jobs and to further the [process of] industrialization of the country, which began in 2003. We will rule the country for the next four years as well». However, Russia still endorses Christina’s ongoing political leadership and has made it clear that it will ultimately be guided by her announcement of which presidential candidate she will support.

Little more than six months remain in Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s stay in office. A win for the Front for Victory candidate will ensure continuity in the domestic and foreign policy of the country’s leaders. However, if an opposition candidate sweeps into power, the agreements Christina signed with Russia and China would be called into question. There is a constant debate on this topic within the Argentine media. Must a future president fulfill existing agreements or may he demand that they be revised?

Activists working to proselytize and implement the policies of the US Embassy in Buenos Aires are trying to convince the public that much of the content of Argentina’s agreements with Russia is being concealed. Plus, the former heads of Argentina’s Ministry of Energy have published an open letter that casts doubt upon the utility of the agreements with Rosatom. The struggle to put the Russian-Argentine agreements into action has only just begun.