Russia Escalates Territorial Claim Tensions in Antarctica, Chile Responds

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Chilean defense officials traveled to Antarctica in late May to bolster the country’s territorial claims to the region as tensions escalate over Russia’s recent oil surveys on the continent.

Members of the Chilean Parliament’s defense committee flew to an airbase in Antarctica on May 23 to convene a meeting to assert Chile’s national sovereignty.

Committee member Camila Flores said the lawmakers were there to safeguard and support Chile’s national sovereignty “in the face of any threats,” especially from Russia.

While the lawmakers would say little about their discussions, they did reveal that the meeting addressed the “prevailing geopolitical conditions” on a continent rich in mineral and freshwater reserves but without a government.

Russia reportedly discovered massive oil reserves amounting to roughly 500 billion barrels on the continent in 2020.

During a session of the British Parliament last month, experts warned that Russia could endanger the Antarctica Treaty of 1959 which, among other things, banned mining on the continent.

Russia’s oil surveys rattled both Argentina and Chile, two of the seven countries that assert sovereignty over parts of Antarctica.

The Russian exploration occurred in the Weddell Sea, an area of Antarctica where Chile, the UK, and Argentina’s territorial claims overlap. 

In early May after Russia’s resource-extraction projects became public, Argentina demanded confirmation on whether Moscow’s intentions were economic rather than scientific.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric vowed to “oppose any commercial exploitation” of Antarctica’s hydrocarbons and minerals.

The head of Chile’s parliamentary defense committee Francisco Undurraga condemned the “crafty aspirations” of countries that would seek to exert influence over Antarctica and said Chile would continue defending what was fair.

The tensions over territorial claims in Antarctica have put Chile’s left-wing government at odds with the conservative government of Argentina’s President Javier Milei.

In April, President Milei announced that Argentina planned to construct a southern naval base to help stake a claim to the southernmost continent, drawing the ire of Chile’s foreign ministry.

The 1959 Antarctica Treaty, signed by 53 nations, enshrined the continent for scientific and peaceful purposes only.