Putin’s claim to disputed UK territory shut down as fears surge over Russian land grab

England wished luck by Rothera Research Station in Antarctica

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Experts have increasingly warned that the likes of Russia and China are turning their attention to the scientific haven of Antarctica. The region has been protected by the Antarctic Treaty System for more than 60 years, which bans military activity on the continent and suspends eight territorial claims – including Britain’s – to the region. But Moscow and Beijing are said to be pushing their luck for more access to fisheries, oil reserves, and mining as the treaty is set to come up for contention in 2048.

Geopolitical expert Professor Klaus Dodds previously told Express.co.uk: The biggest source of tension in recent years has been fishing.

“What we have, essentially, is two sides – on the one hand, you have China, Russia, Ukraine and Japan – all of whom want to exploit fish for commercial benefit

“On the other hand, you have the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US who tend to focus more on environmental protection and conservation.

“What we are seeing in the Southern Ocean at the moment is a battle of wills over the balance between fishing and not fishing.”

Experts warn that the likes of the Kremlin are using scientific research to further their claims on the continent and Prof Dodds said mining is key to this.

He added: “Under what’s called the ‘Protocol on Environmental Protection’ mining is banned, but there has always been this grey area where what counts as geological research could look like mining.

“So you’ve always got this dual-use element of science – it’s brilliant for learning about things, but can also be used to evaluate what’s in certain environments.

“What we are absolutely going to see is China and Russia becoming more and more assertive in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

“I think the next decade is going to be absolutely crucial.”

Historian and author of ‘The Historiography of the First Russian Antarctic Expedition,’ Rip Bulkeley, told Express.co.uk that Russia “now shows disturbing signs of being ready to make a claim”.

He explained why the Protocol on Environmental Protection is now “the cornerstone” of the Antarctic Treaty System after a “historical claim” that’s Russian explorers were the first to spot Antarctica on January 28, 1820. 

He told Express.co.uk: “President Putin takes a strong 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 investment in Russian stations.

“In 2015 he presided over a session of the Russian Geographical Society which emphasised the future importance of Antarctic resources and the need to insist on Russia’s historical priority.

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“Putin is generally seen as the saviour of Russia’s Antarctic programme.”

Mr Bulkeley warns that, if Russia starts to favour a “radical revision” of the Protocol on Environmental Protection, then a land grab “would be hard to reconcile with”.

It could lead to Russia “walking out the Treaty” to start “exploiting Antarctic resources” on their own terms.

But, Mr Bulkeley refutes Russia’s original claim to Antarctica and claims it was made to stop the UK from doing the same thing.

He told Express.co.uk: “The claim to first discovery was first put forward in 1949, 129 years after the alleged event, as a Cold War response to a move by America to take possession of Antarctica through a Western condominium. 

“The claim is based on a single, unreliable document, and Russian historians have used fallacious arguments and textual cuts and misreadings to sustain it over the past 72 years.

“Part of their problem was that the alleged sighting of January 28, 1820, had to be right, because a British expedition definitely saw the mainland two days later. 

“The political pressure made it impossible for them to settle for another sighting by their expedition three weeks later, which is based on much better evidence.”

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