Antarctica: an expert locates an “underwater structure” on Google Maps
The frozen continent is reserved for scientists from all over the world to study the history of the Earth and the effects of climate change in a remote region unaffected by human activity. But experts now fear that Moscow is turning its attention to the region, which has been protected by the Antarctic Treaty system for more than 60 years. The Global Compact sets aside the frozen desert as a scientific paradise, bans military activities on the continent and suspends eight territorial claims over the region, including that of Britain – which is contested by Chile and Argentina.
He told Express.co.uk: “At the time of the treaty, all land claims in Antarctica were frozen.
“Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had made such a claim, however, both reserved the right to do so in the future. None has made a formal complaint to date.
“But unlike all other parties to the Treaty, Russia is now showing worrying signs of being ready to claim, if not a specific part of the continent, at least a disproportionate share of mineral and other resources as climate change renders them de more and more accessible.
The region is a scientific paradise
In recent months, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have all significantly reduced their presence in Antarctica due to the pandemic.
Not only could the cuts delay important research into sea level rise and the effects of global warming, they also leave the door open to potential conflict over the protocol.
Russian researchers continue to work on the continent and would try their luck for better access to fishing, oil reserves and mining.
Even before the pandemic, experts warned that this scientific research could be used to advance their claims on the continent and also to exploit its minerals.
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Researchers withdrew from Antarctica in recent months
He said: “Under the ‘Environmental Protection Protocol’ mining is prohibited, but there has always been this gray area where what counts as geological research might look like mining.
“So you still have that dual-use science element – it’s great for learning things, but can also be used to assess what’s in certain environments.
“So there is anxiety about fishing first, then minerals later, and you don’t have to invoke a date like 2048 to see potential pressure points.
“What we’re absolutely going to see is that China and Russia are increasingly asserting themselves in the Arctic and Antarctic.
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Russia and China would be interested
And Mr Bulkeley explained how Russian President Vladimir Putin can do it.
He added: “Their position is explicitly based on the historical claim that Russian explorers were the first to sight the Antarctic continent on January 28, 1820, and the legal claim that this event gives them special rights over the continent as a whole.
“President Putin takes a keen interest in the work of Russian scientists in Antarctica and regularly congratulates them on the anniversary of the alleged discovery.
“He also encourages lobbyists for Russian interests in Antarctica and actively supports new investments in Russian stations.
“In 2015, he chaired a session of the Russian Geographical Society which underlined the future importance of Antarctic resources and the need to emphasize Russia’s historical priority.
Russia is reportedly building more icebreakers
Mr Bulkeley explains in his new publication why their basis for Russian claims is false.
But, nevertheless, it can pose a serious threat to the future of the Antarctic Treaty system.
He continued, “Putin is widely regarded as the savior of Russia’s Antarctic program, and satirists have portrayed him as aspiring to build a ‘white empire’ at both poles.
“The claim of the first discovery was first presented in 1949, 129 years after the alleged event, in response to the Cold War America’s decision to take possession of Antarctica through a western condominium.
Antarctic land claims
“Part of their problem was that the alleged sighting of January 28, 1820 had to be ‘correct’ because a British expedition definitely saw the continent two days later.
“Political pressure prevented them from settling for one more sighting by their expedition three weeks later, which is based on much better evidence. “
Mr Bulkeley warns that a possible Russian “revision” of the protocol on environmental protection “would be difficult to reconcile”.
He adds that he could see Russia “come out of the Treaty” and start “to exploit the resources of Antarctica” on its own terms.
“The Historiography of the First Russian Antarctic Expedition, 1819-1821” is published by Palgrave Macmillan and available for purchase here.