Staunton, September 6 – The international protocol restricting the exploitation of the natural resources of Antarctica adopted in October 1991, “two months and three weeks before the disintegration of the USSR,” could collapse if one or more great powers withdraw from it, Aleksey Kupriyanov says.
In the existing environment of “multipolarity,” the IMEMO expert on international agreements says, that is likely in the coming years and therefore Moscow must start preparing for a situation in which there will be a competition for Antarctic resources in order to protect its interests (profile.ru/politics/rossii-pora-nachinat-gotovitsya-k-borbe-za-resursy-antarktidy-171502/).
While Kupriyanov doesn’t say so, one of the powers that might initiate the collapse of the protocol on Antarctica could be Russia. Indeed, his comments suggest that at least some in Moscow may be considering abrogating that agreement on its own, an action that would be consistent with Vladimir Putin’s modus operandi.
And he suggests that for Russia to be able to exploit Antarctica in the event of the collapse of the protocol, it must have a military base nearby. There is no chance for that in the Atlantic or the Pacific but there are good changes in the Indian Ocean and on the Indian Ocean littoral of Africa.
Moscow has had an Antarctic strategy document since 2010, but at least formally, it limits itself to keeping within the restrictions of the international protocol. However, Russians recognize that with global warming, gaining access to Antarctic resources is becoming ever easier and more attractive to world powers.
For Russia to have a chance to be a player in the coming international scramble for those resources, Kupriyanov says, it needs a military base. It has no chance in either the Atlantic or the Pacific, but it does have opportunities in the Indian Ocean and in Africa. And it is quite obvious that it is actively exploring these, the Moscow analyst says.
In the Indian Ocean, Kupriyanov continues, Moscow’s position is “quite strong.” It has good relations with the island nations and the littoral states. Recently, Vladimir Putin hosted the Maldives foreign minister in the Kremlin; and it is already clear that Moscow would like and the Maldives is likely willing to agree to a Russian base at Addu in the Maldives.
If for some reason that plan isn’t realized, the IMEMO researcher continues, there are other possibilities in the Seychelles, the Komoro Islands and Mauritius, and there are also states on the Indian Ocean littoral of Africa including in particular Mozambique. Any of those would give Russia the basis for gaining access to Antarctica’s natural resources.
According to Kupriyanov, the biggest reason for optimism is that people in Moscow are thinking about these long-term possibilities, while the other major powers to the extent one can tell do not have any plan in place at all. That gives Russia a real chance, and it must take advantage of that.