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Russian President To Make First-Ever Visit To Argentina

President Dmitry Medvedev and his Argentinian counterpart Cristina Kirchner
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is set to make the first visit by a Russian president to Argentina, where he will be received by his Argentinian counterpart, Cristina Kirchner.

Despite the unprecedented visit today, this year marks the 125th anniversary since the two countries first established diplomatic relations. Those relations were interrupted between 1917 and 1945 and resumed after World War II.

During the two-day official visit, the leaders will discuss trade and energy cooperation.

In addition to agricultural products, Russia imports around 20 percent of its beef supplies from Argentina. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists Russia as the world's third-largest importer of beef.

Partly because of these agricultural products, Russia maintains a substantial trade deficit with Argentina. Last year, the deficit was $705 million. The gap remains despite 2008 talks to increase trade on both sides, according to Argentina's "Clarin" newspaper.

Argentina is also looking to Russia for its energy needs, especially for hydroelectric energy equipment and expertise. Russia and Argentina may also reach further agreements during the visit to expand cooperation in the oil sector.

Relations between Russia and Argentina have markedly improved in recent years, with President Kirchner visiting Moscow in December 2008. At that meeting, the two countries signed an agreement of strategic association and agreed to waive visa requirements for travel between the two countries.

Graciela Zubelzu, a Russia expert at Argentina's Council on International Relations, says that many Argentines have overlooked Russia's growing presence on the international stage.

"I believe that the Argentine perception of Russia has been off [in recent years]. In one way or another, my country has remained with the view of Russia as the weakened country of the 1990s without paying heed to the enormous potential that -- although weakened -- the country has, and the possibilities of cooperation [with] and recuperation of the Russian economy," Zubelzu says.

Gaining Traction In Latin America

Zubelzu says Medvedev's visit to Argentina was organized with just one month's advance planning. She describes it as a hastily arranged extension of the Russian president's regional tour, between stops in the United States and Brazil.

Russian presidential visits to Latin America are seen by some to be a Russian effort to gain traction in a traditional area of influence of the United States. Russia has developed close relationships with Latin American governments less friendly to U.S. interests, especially that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a fellow at the California-based Independent Institute and the son of one of Latin America's leading intellectuals, says for a Russian president it makes sense "to visit not only Venezuela, which is perhaps the regime that best embodies -- obviously apart from Cuba -- this kind of [anti-American] trend, but also Argentina that is perhaps not as intensely [anti-American] as Venezuela but [is] certainly considered by most of the region as a populist, anti-American type of regime and government."

Yet despite lingering tensions between Argentina and the United States, Argentinian newspapers this morning are reporting a positive meeting President Kirchner held with U.S. President Barack Obama on April 13.

Kirchner, like Medvedev, had been attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

After his Argentina trip, Medvedev will continue on to Brazil, where he will participate in the second summit of the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The heads of state from the world's four largest emerging economies held their first meeting in Russia in 2009.