Friday, June 14, 2024

Russian oil discovery hands Putin another way to ‘antagonise UK and allies’

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Russia‘s recent discovery of oil in British territory in Antarctica could be exactly what Vladimir Putin needs to tighten his control and “antagonise the UK and its allies”, says an expert.

Russia discovered a staggering 511 billion barrels of oil, 10 times the entire North Sea’s output over the last 50 years, according to the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee (EAC).

The documents presented in parliament last week say it was found in the Weddell Sea, which falls under the UK’s territorial claim, as well as Chile and Argentina’s.

Chris Robinson, CEO of intelligence and advisory firm CRI, warned that this could play into Putin’s hand as he continues to “antagonise” the West. He stressed it was a threat we “cannot ignore”.

Robinson told Daily Express US: “On the face of it, this discovery could provide Russia with yet another lever with which to antagonise the UK and its allies, and one that it cannot really ignore.”

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However, he noted several difficulties in actually extracting the oil, which could present further tensions between Russia and NATO should they go ahead with extraction.

On top of the “unnavigable” terrain of Antarctica, the diplomatic issues of getting NATO involved could make it “almost impossible” to actually access the oil.

There is also the issue of stringent economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West as a result of the war in Ukraine, which would make it difficult to find a company that would be willing to drill the oil on behalf of the country.

Robinson explained: “Antarctica’s physical remoteness makes oil transportation logistics and operations unnavigable for Russia, with the shorter Pacific route effectively made inaccessible by the NATO presence.

Many of the US companies it previously relied upon to drill existing fields can no longer do business with the Russian state. And it would take so long to bear fruit it could take over a decade before it had any impact on Russia’s energy supply.”

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Despite laying no territorial claim over Antarctica, Russia has continues to escalate its presence in the region, establishing five research stations there since 1957. Concerns are now being raised that they are looking to do more than just scientific research.

The territory is currently governed by The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which states that no one country owns it. It is designated as a continent devoted to peace and science, banning all oil developments.

Russia is signed up to this treaty, but in 2048, several elements of it will come up for contention, presenting the country will an opportunity to make a land grab and use “scientific research” to mask the drilling of oil reserves.

Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at the Royal Holloway, told the EAC that this could “signal a potential threat to the permanent ban on mining”.

He said: “There is a worry that Russia is collecting seismic data that could be construed to be prospecting rather than scientific research.

Russia‘s activities need to be understood as a decision to undermine the norms associated with seismic survey research, and ultimately a precursor for forthcoming resource extraction.”

Since the war in Ukraine began, he said there has been concern that Russia, increasingly isolated from the West, will stir up “strategic competition” between countries that will be “ever more explicit in Antarctica“.

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