Some interesting historical data about the Falkland Islands war and Soviet intelligence support to Argentina has emerged from a book by a Russian journalist and researcher, who as the son of a former URSS diplomat expert in trade affairs spent most of his youth in Latinamerica, Cuba, Ecuador and Uruguay.
Sergey Brilev, currently Deputy Director of Rossiya Television, RTR, begun by writing a book on his Latinamerican experience titled “Fidel, Football and the Malvinas”, where he unveils for his Russian readers a still much unknown and mysterious continent.
Although only ten when the 1982 conflict, and living in Uruguay, on writing the book he was much intrigued about how involved the Soviets were, naturally motivated on that old proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” particularly since Argentina (and Uruguay) did not follow on the US grains sales embargo to the Soviet Union “punished” believe it or not for invading Afghanistan in 1979.
Brilev writes that in spite of the risks of a world conflict because of Soviet support in the war involving a NATO member, Moscow handed to the Argentines and their most ‘anti-communist’ leader General Leopolodo Galtieri crucial satellite information which helped with some of the greatest coups of the Argentine forces in sinking Royal navy vessels.
Apparently on May 15, 1982 the Soviets launched the Kosmos 1365 satellite which was positioned over the South Atlantic thus supplying strategic information about the British Task Force and its position to the Argentines. Brilev had first read the news in a Time magazine during the conflict and it was intriguing that the launch occurred at the height of the war and a month and a half following the Argentina landing in the Falklands.
Brilev tried access to Moscow archives but it was “classified information”. He therefore contacted top Soviet military officers from the eighties. Brilev mentions General Nikolai Leonov, who was then head of KGB analytical services and General Valentin Varennikov, first deputy chief of Soviet forces in Moscow. Both confirmed the provision of regular intelligence aid to the Argentines.
Brilev in the book argues that the Argentines were able to locate and sink HMS Sheffield with the Navy Mirages and Exocet missiles thanks to information from Soviet satellites already in orbit over the South Atlantic. The Argentine version of a Neptune aircraft detecting the Royal Navy frigate sounds “too patriotic”, says the Russian writer who adds that that model of naval search aircraft was too already old and had serious maintenance problems.
“I’m convinced the strategic information for the sinking of the Sheffield was supplied by the Soviets”, he insists.
Another Argentine coup, on May 25th, the sinking of HMS Coventry and the Atlantic Conveyor which went down with 15.000 tons of crucial equipment, Brilev also attributes to strategic info from the Kosmos-1365.
However Soviet support was not limited to satellite intelligence. Brilev states that the Soviets used TU-95 intelligence gathering aircrafts to follow the Task Force as it sailed south in an area from the Gulf of Biscay to the Equator. Sometimes the aircrafts would fly as low as 30/40 metres above the Royal Navy vessels. Soviet Colonel Georguiy Bulbenkov confirmed his participation as pilot in these low flight incursions.
But as a Russian who lived the collapse of the Soviet Union Brilev is also interested in trying to sort out how the former superpower under Communist rule until 1991 melted. Who decided in the Kremlin on such a delicate decision as spying on the British navy intent in recovering the Falklands and in support of a ferociously anti-communist regime?
His search for that answer took him all the way to Mikhail Gorbachov who in the eighties was a member of the Communist party Political Bureau which made all major strategic decisions. But Gorbachov was plain clear: “there was never a decision from the Central Committee to collaborate with the Argentine military Junta”.
Brilev concludes that in the early eighties the Soviet Union power structure was already under strain. The strategic aid was a decision of the Generals at military command level as a logical support for “the enemy of my enemy”. He then recalls that only two countries did not join the 1979 US sponsored international embargo on the Soviet Union, Argentina and Uruguay and “the military were very thankful for that”.
Finally Brilev says that as a school boy in South America he was always intrigued by the silver triangles at the bottom of the official Argentina and Chilean maps, which are marked as possessions of those countries. It’s hard to understand because after all “it was a Russian who in 1820 discovered Antarctica”.
Brilev finally states that in coming years the Falklands conflict will also be remembered as “the first armed incident of a major dispute in Antarctica”. The Russian researcher arrives at this conclusion following his visits to the Argentine, Chilean, British and Russian Antarctic institutes.
“In a couple of decades we’ll be facing a situation where the traditional sources of minerals and energy will be exhausted and the last great important reserves are in the Antarctic continent: that is why the Falklands, as I see it, will be considered a first major conflict over Antarctica”. The Falklands after all “are the natural and privileged gate to Antarctica”.