In message to Russia, Chilean lawmakers meet in Antarctica to underline territorial claims

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Defense officials from Chile convened a meeting at the bottom of the planet on Thursday in a bid to bolster their territorial claims in Antarctica as tensions escalate over Russia's maneuvers in the polar region.

Lawmakers from Chile's parliamentary defense committee flew to a desolate air base for a meeting billed as an assertion of national sovereignty.

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"We are going to be sitting in Antarctica in an act of sovereignty, of safeguarding and supporting our national integrity in the face of any threats," said committee member Camila Flores, singling out Russia as posing such a threat.

Chile-Antarctica

Gentoo penguins stand on rocks near the Chilean station Bernardo O’Higgins, Antarctica, Jan. 22, 2015. Members of Chile’s Defense Committee met on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in a special briefing in the Antarctic to address "the prevailing geopolitical conditions". (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The lawmakers revealed little about their talks at the glacier-filled base beyond saying they addressed "the prevailing geopolitical conditions" on the white continent that has vast mineral resources, fresh water reserves and no government.

The meeting comes amid a recent frenzy of media reports surrounding Russia's purported discovery of massive oil reserves in Antarctica back in 2020, when the Russian polar research vessel Alexander Karpinsky reportedly uncovered some 500 billion barrels worth of crude oil. The issue resurfaced earlier this month in a U.K. parliamentary session where experts warned Russia’s geological surveys could jeopardize the decades-long ban on mining in the region.

The reports rattled Chile and Argentina — among the seven countries that assert claims of sovereignty over parts of the demilitarized continent. Russia's surveys took place in the Weddell Sea, where Chile's territorial claims overlap with those of Britain and Argentina, according to documents presented to the British parliament.

"We are going to continue defending what we believe is fair," said Francisco Undurraga, head of Chile's defense committee, condemning the "crafty aspirations" of nations rushing to assert greater influence over Antarctica in an increasingly energy-hungry world.

When reports of Russian resource-extraction projects surfaced earlier this month, Argentina demanded to know whether Russia had scientific or economic intentions. Chilean President Gabriel Boric promised to "firmly oppose any commercial exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons."

Historic tensions over Antarctic claims have also re-emerged between Boric's left-wing government and Argentina's far-right government.

In an effort to reshape Argentina's foreign policy in line with the United States, Argentine President Javier Milei last month announced the construction of a southern naval base with U.S. involvement to help Argentina stake claim to Antarctica, drawing complaints from Chile's foreign ministry.

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Geopolitical competition is just the latest issue to test the 53-nation Antarctic Treaty, which in 1959 enshrined the territory as a scientific preserve used only for peaceful purposes.

Rising sea levels due to climate change, unregulated tourism and krill fishing in the Southern Ocean are just a few other challenges that the consensus-based system is struggling to address.

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