Staunton, November 7 – The United States has signaled that it intends to challenge Russian dominance in the Arctic by expanding its fleet of icebreakers, but that will take time. In the interim, Moscow analysts say, Washington is testing policies in the Antarctic that it may seek to employ in the Arctic to weaken Russia’s position.
Russia is in a far weaker position in the Antarctic than in Arctic, but it has both international law and, in most cases, China on its side, resources that Moscow analysts believe may keep the West in check but that point to heightened tensions around both poles in the near future (svpressa.ru/politic/article/279515/).
But there is one critical difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic, they say. The contest over the Arctic is primarily about natural resources located in the ground beneath the sea while that which is emerging in the Antarctic is not about those, which in any case are rare and difficult to access. Instead, the conflict around the southern pole is about fishing.
That gives the US a real advantage because many countries are interested in expanding their access to this food source, and they are thus prepared to listen to Washington about the need to restrict any expansion in Russian activity there. China isn’t willing to do that, and its resistance is an important resource for Moscow.
Moscow analysts like Andrey Koshkin of the Russian Economics University make three points. First, the US is actively pursuing a redivision of spheres of influence and is working first of all to do so near where it is strong in order to prepare to extend them into places where it is weaker. Hence, it is focusing on the Antarctic.
Second, according to him, the US at least under Trump has shown itself remarkably contemptuous of the international agreements that had restricted international competition over Antarctica and kept it a zone of scientific research by excluding most economic and all military activities there. That approach, he suggests, is likely to continue.
And third, while Antarctica is far from Russia, Moscow should be attending to what is going on there because the West is using it as a testing ground for the tactics it will adopt in the Arctic, where Russia is in a much stronger position. If the West succeeds in the south, it will quickly move to do the same thing in the north.
That threat, Koshkin argues, means that Moscow must work closely with China to oppose the US and the West more generally in the Antarctic because in his view, the West has a common policy for both polar regions; and in both cases, it has more to do with opposing Russia than will expanding economic activity.
Window on Eurasia — New Series