President Alberto Fernández's visit to Moscow and China got off to a controversial start this week after the Peronist leader declared that Argentina has to “stop being dependent on the International Monetary Fund and the United States.”
Opposition lawmakers condemned the remarks, delivered to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as “incomprehensible and unjustified,” as well as detrimental to Argentine interests.
The president’s visit to Moscow lasted less than 24 hours, but sources inside his delegation briefed reporters that it had gone well.
Fernández's meeting with Putin got underway at 7.55am Buenos Aires time on Thursday after a brief Covid-19 protocol delay, with the Frente de Todos leader explaining the economic impact of Argentina’s 2018 credit-line with the International Monetary Fund and the influence the United States exerts on the country.
"Argentina has experienced a very special situation as a result of its indebtedness and the economic situation that I inherited," the president told Putin. “From the 1990s onwards, Argentina has looked to the United States, and the Argentine economy depends a great deal on the IMF debt and the US influence in the Fund.”
He stressed that during the terms of former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, those leaders sought to "break out of the straitjacket" that Argentina had with Washington, which had made it possible to draw up a strategic agreement with Russia.
"In 2015 we had a government that once again turned its gaze to the United States and generated the tremendous debt we have," Fernández continued, taking aim at his predecessor as president Mauricio Macri.
“I am determined that Argentina has to stop being dependent on the Fund and the United States, and here I believe that Russia has an important place,” he concluded.
In Buenos Aires, those remarks were met by amazement among the opposition, which criticised Fernández fiercely. The president announced just last Friday that his government had reached a deal to restructure its US$44.5-billion debt with the IMF, with talks to finalise a deal still ongoing.
Former foreign minister Jorge Faurie described them as “incomprehensible and unjustified" and warned that "they open the door for the region to become the scene of confrontation and tensions on a global scale."
Macri himself wrote on social networks that they were “risky” and could “jeopardise the agreement" with the multilateral lender.
"It is not a time for improvisation," the leader of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition said in a post on his social networks.
The following day, in a pre-scheduled meeting, Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur met with US Ambassador to Argentina Marc R. Stanley for talks at Palacio Bosch.
While in Moscow, President Fernández thanked Russia for its help in providing Sputnik Covid-19 vaccines, saying the country had “come to our aid.” According to diplomatic sources cited by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, the Argentine leader thanked Putin for “saving lives” during the pandemic.
In turn, the Russian leader highlighted the vaccination campaign carried out in Argentina, and pointed out the "commercial and economic" potential between the two countries.
"There are many fields in which we can articulate and coordinate our collaboration," declared Putin.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the two heads of state gave a press conference in which they stressed their “similar approaches and where they coincide.”
“We protect sovereignty and the supremacy of international law. We are going to coordinate our approaches on international platforms within the UN, and cooperate in the G20. I would like to thank Fernández for a substantial and concrete dialogue," said Putin.
According to reports, the Russian leader later gave the Argentine head of state a tour of his office and showed him personal photographs of his father and mother, while telling him the story of his family.