Chilean Lawmakers Meet in Antarctica to Reinforce Territorial Claims Amid Rising Tensions Over Russia’s Activities

Chilean defense officials gathered in Antarctica on Thursday for a meeting intended to reinforce their territorial claims in the region, amid heightened tensions over Russia’s activities in the polar area.

Members of Chile’s parliamentary defense committee traveled to a remote airbase for the meeting, which was portrayed as a demonstration of national sovereignty.

“We will gather in Antarctica as an act of sovereignty, safeguarding, and supporting our national integrity in the face of potential threats,” said committee member Camila Flores, specifically mentioning Russia as a potential threat.

The lawmakers provided minimal details about their discussions at the ice-covered base, stating only that they addressed “the current geopolitical conditions” on the white continent, which possesses vast mineral resources, freshwater reserves, and no governing body.

The meeting was held amidst a flurry of recent media reports regarding Russia’s alleged discovery of substantial oil reserves in Antarctica in 2020, when the Russian polar research vessel Alexander Karpinsky reportedly uncovered an estimated 500 billion barrels of crude oil. The issue resurfaced earlier this month during a U.K. parliamentary session, where experts cautioned that Russia’s geological surveys could jeopardize the long-standing ban on mining in the region.

These reports have raised concerns in Chile and Argentina, two of the seven nations that claim sovereignty over portions of the demilitarized continent. Russia’s surveys were conducted 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 will continue to defend what we perceive as just,” said Francisco Undurraga, chair of Chile’s defense committee, condemning the “crafty aspirations” of nations competing for greater influence over Antarctica in a world with increasing energy demands.

Earlier this month, when reports of Russian resource-extraction projects surfaced, Argentina sought clarification on Russia’s intentions, whether scientific or economic. Chilean President Gabriel Boric vowed to “firmly oppose any commercial exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.”

Historical tensions over Antarctic claims have also resurfaced between Boric’s left-wing government and Argentina’s far-right government.

In an effort to align Argentina’s foreign policy with that of the United States, last month announced the construction of a southern naval base with U.S. involvement to support Argentina’s claim to Antarctica, sparking objections from Chile’s foreign ministry.

Geopolitical competition is the most recent challenge to the 53-nation Antarctic Treaty, which designated the territory as a scientific preserve for peaceful purposes in 1959.

Other challenges that the consensus-based system is facing include rising sea levels due to climate change, unregulated tourism, and krill fishing in the Southern Ocean.