Argentina and UK Falklands spat spiced up by Russian jets

Argentina and UK Falklands spat spiced up by Russian jets
The Falkland Islands - a UK overseas territory Argentina lays claim to - have been allegedly reviewing their defenses after news Russia may offer Argentina fighter jets. Moscow could swap them for beef and wheat, UK's Daily Express says in its report.

The deal reportedly involves a lease/lend of twelve Sukhoi Su-24 all-weather attack aircraft, which NATO calls "Fencer A". The jets will be able to do air patrols over the Falklands' capital, Port Stanley. According to the tabloid, Ministry of Defense officials fear Buenos Aires will take delivery of the planes well before the 2020 deployment of the Navy’s 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its F-35B fighters, leaving a “real window of vulnerability.”

Up to 1,500 troops, backed by a naval warship that visits throughout the year, are permanently based on the Falklands, along with four RAF Typhoon jets, plus anti-aircraft and artillery batteries.

View of the British military cemetery in San Carlos Village in the Falkland Islands. (AFP Photo/Martin Bernetti)

The Falklands, called 'Las Malvinas' by the Argentinians, have belonged to Britain since the 1830s. Argentina insists the islands are theirs by virtue of their proximity to the South American mainland. In 1982 Buenos Aires lost a brief war with Britain over the islands. Under the Constitution, the UK is responsible for the islands' foreign affairs, retaining the power "to protect UK interests and to ensure the overall good governance of the territory." Nonetheless, the islands have their own internal government. Last March, Falkland islanders held a referendum, voting by 1,513 to three to remain a British overseas territory. Russia supports Argentina's bid for direct bilateral talks with Britain on sovereignty of the islands.

READ MORE: Argentina slams ‘NATO’ Falklands as UK gears up for war games

Russia has been developing friendly ties with Argentina since 2010, when it signed a "historic" contract with Buenos Aires and delivered two Mi17 assault helicopters to serve in the country's national Air Force. The sale was the first time the Argentinean military had bought Russian military hardware.

View of Stanley from Mount Longdon, Falklands. (AFP Photo/Daniel Garcia)

President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Argentina in July also helped boost relations between the countries, possibly paving the way for exchanging Russian military hardware for food and goods. Russia banned food imports from the US, along with goods from the EU, Norway, Australia and Canada, after Putin ordered retaliation for sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Buenos Aires needs to replace its depleted fighter fleet. In October, Defense Minister Agustin Rossi announced the purchase of 24 Saab Gripen fighters, which were to have been provided by Brazil. It would have been the first major purchase of new military aircraft by Buenos Aires since the Falklands War three decades ago. However, the deal was called off because some of the jet’s parts were made in the UK.

The Ocean Guardian semi-submersible drilling rig floats tethered to the sea floor just three days after beginning its contracted well for Rockhopper Exploration a little more than 100 km (62 miles) offshore from the Falkland Islands. (Reuters/Gary Clement)

The seabed around Falklands is believed to contain copious oil reserves. While oil companies have conducted large-scale exploration, exploitation of the reserves hasn’t yet been launched. Tensions between the UK and Argentina escalated in 2010 when a British company began exploring for oil near the Falklands' waters. Argentina introduced new rules in response, requiring all ships travelling to the Falklands through its waters to have a permit.