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U.K. boosting military spending to Falklands as Argentina firms up ties with Russia

A Falklands Islands Defence Force soldier takes part in a training exercise on Sapper Hill in Stanley, Falkland Islands. The volunteer part time force has about 100 members and trains with the British Army.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

A Falklands Islands Defence Force soldier takes part in a training exercise on Sapper Hill in Stanley, Falkland Islands. The volunteer part time force has about 100 members and trains with the British Army. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)  (2007 Getty Images)

The United Kingdom plans to spend about $417 million, or 280 million pounds, to beef up defense spending in the Falklands Islands during the next decade to counter what the country’s defense minister calls a “very live threat” in Argentina.

The UK believes Argentina is becoming a growing menace to their south Atlantic territory because of the country’s nascent, but troubling, relationship with both Iran and Russia. So UK plans to improve its defense system and other facilities on the island and will send two Royal Air Force Chinook transport helicopters to help the islands' garrison mount a "swift and decisive response" to any "emerging incidents," said Defense Minister Michael Fallon, according to the BBC.

Troop levels on the islands will remain steady, at around 1,200 soldiers.

"The principle threat to the islands remains," Fallon told legislators on Tuesday, according to Time. "I am confident that, following this review, we have the right deployment."

The announcement from British officials comes as the government of Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been seen as cozying up to both Russia and Iran.

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The Sun newspaper reported that Russia is planning to lease 12 long-range bombers to the Argentinian government  -- something that Fallon denied was credible – and an investigation by late Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman found that the Fernández government was willing to cover-up Iran's role in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center for cheaper oil from Tehran.

Besides Argentina's growing ties with some of the U.K.'s main adversaries on the world stage, relations between London and Buenos Aires have hovered between cordial to ice cold since the end of the brief, but bloody Falklands War in 1982.

Argentina, which calls the Falklands islands Las Malvinas, says it has a right to the territory because it inherited it from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s. It also cites the islands' proximity to South America as another reason why it should control them.

The approximate 3,000 residents who live on the islands, which lie about 300 miles off the coast of the Argentinian Patagonia, are almost exclusively of British descent and consider themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown – a fact that the U.K. uses to base its claim on the islands.

There is some speculation that Fallon is using the Falklands issue as a political tool in the run-up to U.K.'s general election in six weeks. His Conservative Party is traditionally viewed as soundest on defense in an election where the issue has taken the forefront.

The defense minister, however, is not without warrant in U.K.'s concern over the Falklands.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, visited Buenos Aires last year to try and strengthen its ties to Latin America and Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, linked the Ukraine and Falklands issues on Twitter.

“Attention London: Crimea has far more reason to be in Russia than the Falklands have to be part of Great Britain." Pushkov tweeted.

Argentina's Fernández has referred to the islanders as "squatters." Her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, has called them "non-people."

"We don't want [the British] to come here to make this unnecessary show of military strength," Arturo Puricelli, Argentina's defense minister, said, according to the Telegraph. "We have no doubt at all that we are going to recover our Malvinas islands. The international community will support us."

The British government rejected last year calls from Argentina to sit down to negotiate sovereignty over the islands.

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