Fernet with Vodka

Tobias Belgrano
Latest posts by Tobias Belgrano (see all)
President Alberto Fernandez with Vladimir Putin. Source: Telam

The Argentinians adopted, due to the Italian immigration of the early XX century, a sour herbal wine called “Fernet Branca” – usually mixed with the popular drink “Coca Cola.” The country consumes more than 75% of all Fernet Branca produced globally.

This appropriation speaks about how the South American nation’s personality, the love for foreign Italian tradition, mixed with the popular taste of Coca Cola has become as national as a strong and dry vodka for the Russians. The sour taste of Fernet makes it tough to combine it with vodka. However, in harsh times, beggars cannot be choosers.

Much has been said about the geopolitical situation in Russia during the last few days, but what’s the political luggage that Alberto Fernandez is dragging from Buenos Aires to Moscow? Which are the geopolitical interests of Russia in this context with Argentina?

THE PEAK OF TENSIONS WITH THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND

Source: France 24

In the last week of January, President Fernandez announced the end of the long negotiation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure the US$45 million that the Fund had lent to the Mauricio Macri administration.

The negotiation was tough. However, the government was able to negotiate a program that did not include the standard “orthodox” policies of debt restructuring – the latter usually include a reduction of budget for pensioning and social policies as well as a reform of the labor market. Against all odds, IMF Managing Director Kristina Georgieva allowed the government to restructure its deficit without forcing a political agenda. The Argentinian government has indeed agreed to reduce the fiscal deficit to 2,5% in 2022, 1,9% in 2023, and 0,9% in 2024.

Despite the optimistic announcement of the President, members of the Frente de Todos coalition weren’t as enthusiastic as their pairs. The tension was implicit when the vice President, Cristina Kirchner, did not say a word to celebrate the end of the negotiations. The first hit was from her son, Maximo Kirchner – majority leader of the coalition in Congress, who, in his letter of resignation, affirmed that the responsibility of the agreement was of the President and his team, and assured he shared neither the way that the pact was negotiated nor its results. The whole situation resembles the one described last September (you can read more about it here), in which the whole Kirchner faction resigned due to the legislative election results. However, in this opportunity, the crisis was just circumscribed to the Vice-President’s son and his position as majority leader. He assured that he could not continue representing the coalition in congress if he did not share the economic goals of the government.

In spite of the fact that the whole situation risks endangering the success of the negotiations – especially because the agreement has to be approved by Congress, President Fernandez remained calm and revealed on national TV that Maximo’s decision was not approved by the Vice President. The President thus chose a new majority leader for the government’s coalition in congress, and of course, one of his trust.

As we mentioned before, drums of war were rumbling since last November, the political consensus was on thin ice, and the Kirchner faction has the feeling that the President has stabbed them in the back. Alberto Fernandez was seen as a weak President, hostage of his coalition associates. But by turning over the table, the Kirchner faction is forced to face a dilemma. Will they admit that they were wrong in choosing Alberto Fernandez as President or support the IMF arrangement against their own ideals? Meanwhile, Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner still has to announce her official position.

IS IT FERNET WITH VODKA, OR VODKA WITH FERNET?

Las claves de la reunión de Mauricio Macri y Vladímir Putin en Moscú - RT
Former President Mauricio Macri with Vladimir Putin. Source: RT

Last February, the Argentine President visited the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The political opposition in Argentina was critical, arguing that the diplomatic move meant walking away from the Western sphere. The Russian bear is very interested in making his sphere of influence bigger in Biden’s “front yard”. Just weeks later, the Russian leader met with Brazilian President Bolsonaro, in an indiscrete move to bring the isolated alt-right leader under his wing.

Vladimir Putin appears to have permanent interests in Argentina. With strategic investments in nuclear power, logistics, and oil exploitation and a growing economic exchange, the Russian leader was not scared to show his pragmatism by advancing his interests even during the Macri administration. The supply of Sputnik V vaccines and its production in Argentina in the Fernandez government can be comparable to his aid during the ARA San Juan submarine crisis in the Macri administration, all gestures that reveal the long-term strategy of seduction from the Kremlin.

So, did Fernandez invent Vodka with Fernet? Or was it Vladimir Putin’s mix?

Argentina and Russia’s growing economic exchange. Source: On24.

It is likely that the former KGB intelligence officer will offer his help in the following IMF negotiations, especially in the Argentine President’s interest in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR, or Derechos Especiales de Giro DEG) that the Fund opens to developing countries. In a public address, Fernandez enthusiastically added that he will open the doors of Latin America through Argentina to Russia. This influence could be observed when Argentina supplied Paraguay and Bolivia with Putin’s trademark, Sputnik V. The Russian leader seems to be in turn interested in gaining international support especially now with his military enterprise in Ukraine.

After meeting Vladimir Putin, Alberto Fernandez proceeded to meet his most important business partner, Xi Jinping, during the Chinese winter games, where he met with Vladimir Putin once again. Although Vodka and Fernet are not compatible as a mix, this unusual combination could offer many novel avenues in geopolitical ties.

  • What are the geopolitical reasons that connect Russia and Argentina despite the ideological shifts of the Argentine governments?
  • Can we expect any kind of sanctions from Washington after these visit?
  • What is the future of the IMF negotiations after this meeting?

Suggested readings

“La Argentina y las repúblicas post-soviéticas: la vinculación bilateral con Rusia, Ucrania, Armenia y el caso Turkmenistán”, Graciela Zubelzú de Bacigalupo.

“Modernidad y modernización: Argentina, Japón, Rusia y Turquía : Sarmiento y Fukuzawa”, Marta E. Pena de Matsushita.

“Del Volga a La Pampa: la odisea apasionante de un pueblo de agricultores y artesanos que conforma las raíces de nuestra pampeanidad” Alejandro Guinder.

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Fernet with Vodka

by Tobias Belgrano time to read: 4 min
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