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Sergey Lavrov

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Chairman of Board of Trustees of RIAC

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya 1 television channel for the documentary Antarctica: 200 Years of Peace, Moscow, February 2, 2020

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya 1 television channel for the documentary Antarctica: 200 Years of Peace, Moscow, February 2, 2020

Sergey Brilyov: Good afternoon, Mr Lavrov.

Sergey Lavrov: Good afternoon.

Sergey Brilyov: I don’t suppose you’ve been to Antarctica?

Sergey Lavrov: Not yet, unfortunately.

Sergey Brilyov: Let me tell you about it. I flew there from Chile. At the airport, I asked where border control is? They replied that there’s no need for it, because I wouldn’t be leaving Chile but would only be travelling to Chile’s Antarctic sector. Why didn’t the Soviet Union try to get a sector?

Sergey Lavrov: Nobody tried to get any sectors. Antarctica, which was discovered 200 years ago by the first Russian expedition of Faddey Bellinsgauzen and Mikhail Lazarev, is a continent where international relations, as it was decided after long disputes, are guided by the Antarctic Treaty signed 60 years ago. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty sets out the principles that regulate the activities of all countries in Antarctica. First of all, the contracting parties pledged to use Antarctica for peaceful purposes only, preserve its biological resources and prohibit all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research (the latter provision was confirmed by the contracting parties for at least 50 years at their meeting in Madrid in 1991). The treaty also bans any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases, the carrying out of military manoeuvres, as well as the testing of any type of weapons. There is also a provision on cooperation based on mutual respect and conducted in the interests of the whole of humankind.

Bellinsgauzen and Lazarev were the first to discover that Antarctica is a continent. British and American expeditions went there after them, but Russians were the first to discover that Antarctica is not an ice wall but a continent. Therefore, Antarctica does not belong to anyone.  It is true that last century a number of countries – Great Britain, Norway, Chile, Australia and New Zealand – made claims for a part of the continent and adjacent waters of the Southern Ocean, which are called “sectors.”

Sergey Brilyov: They marked triangles on the map.

Sergey Lavrov: That’s right, triangles. Back then, the Soviet Union and the United States made a joint statement on peremptory non-recognition of any claims and refusal to divide Antarctica into sectors in order to preserve the continent as the common heritage of the humankind where research projects are implemented to the benefit of all. That mutual agreement was sealed. There is a right to claim a part of Antarctica, but there is a huge distance between laying claim and getting it. Therefore, this issue is not on the agenda now.

Sergey Brilyov: It appears that Russia’s and the United States’ stance on Antarctica is one of the issues that they have complete unanimity on.

Sergey Lavrov: That is true – and this is not the only issue. Since its discovery, Antarctica has been a sort of honeypot, a continent that everyone sought to claim a part of. It even came to serious interstate disputes.  

Sergey Brilyov: There was even shooting.

Sergey Lavrov: There was. But ultimately everything was settled by peaceful means, and I think this experience should be used to settle today’s conflicts.

Sergey Brilyov: Antarctica was almost a reason for a recent war. I mean the Falklands (Malvinas) War waged for the islands located slightly north of Antarctica.

Sergey Lavrov: They are not part of Antarctica.

Sergey Brilyov: But overlooking it. How sure can we be that the Antarctic Treaty will remain in effect and the world will not descend into another armed conflict?

Sergey Lavrov: I believe no one wants to undermine the Treaty. The 43rd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting will be held in May−June this year. It will also mark the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by Russian explorers. There are no signs of putting the Treaty at risk. On the contrary, I believe that cooperation on the South Pole is a remarkable example of relations between countries that set their ideological differences aside to focus on research and a peaceful development of this shared heritage.

Sergey Brilyov: Can you tell me as a diplomat, not a researcher, why Russia has so many bases in Antarctica?

Sergey Lavrov: As a matter of fact, a scientific view is more important here. I doubt that diplomats would have made such a huge number of discoveries as our scientists. Take the discovery of a subglacial lake made at the end of last century. This lake was covered by a four-kilometre layer of ice and so had no contact with the Earth’s surface for millions of years. This unique discovery is helping us to learn increasingly more about the Earth and its origins. As for diplomacy, this offers us direct benefits because we can share experience, demonstrate the achievements made by our people and thereby strengthen Russia’s international standing. When we are doing well in the economy and science, it is easier for us to “make” foreign policy.

Sergey Brilyov: It is said that Antarctic stations are like mineral claims. Or is this a geopolitical fantasy?

Sergey Lavrov: Stations are nothing more than stations. We don’t need visas to fly to Antarctica. It is a unique part of the world. I believe that we should tread very carefully when it comes to initiatives on modifying the regime set out in the Antarctic Treaty.

Sergey Brilyov: I have a question for you as a canoer. Just to imagine that Bellinsgauzen and Lazarev set out in their sloops across the ocean into that ice region… Come to think of it, this is a heroic part of global history.

Sergey Lavrov: I am not a canoer. Rather I’m a rafter. A raft is more reliable than a canoe. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine how they travelled back then. By the way, our diplomats greatly contributed to organising that expedition. All our ambassadors and consuls general located along the expedition’s route were instructed to provide assistance, including food and equipment such as binoculars and spy glasses, as well as many other items. Of course, the fact that there were no major problems during the expedition – nobody died or got scurvy, as many had feared – is proof of the attention given to it by the state, including the diplomatic service, along the entire route.

Source: The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 

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