Is Russia "the first country to break the Antarctic Treaty"? No, that's not true: Russia neither broke away from the agreement nor violated it. As of November 17, 2022, no credible sources -- including other treaty members, the International Court of Justice, international law experts or major media organizations -- had reported that Russia had not fulfilled its treaty obligations in Antarctica.
Russia Breaks Antarctic treaty. 👀🤔
The video opened:
You guys hear about what Russia did all over TikTok? Check out this TikTok video. Russia is the first country to break this Antarctic Treaty that all countries that supposedly go to war together all the time, don't agree on all kinds of things. But all countries agreed not to touch Antarctica. Until now.
Here is what the video looked like at the time of the writing of this fact check:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thu November 17 17:03:57 2022 UTC)
The Antarctic Treaty is an international agreement that 12 countries, including the Soviet Union and the United States, originally signed in 1959. The two countries entered the agreement with "a basis of claim," while seven others had made explicit territorial claims before signing the treaty. However, all participants agreed to maintain the status quo by avoiding any military activities on the continent, especially concerning territorial claims, and using Antarctica only for scientific research. Thus, the document is regarded as "the first arms control agreement of the Cold War."
Article I of the Antarctic Treaty says:
Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only.
Article VI explicitly protects the neutral status of the continent:
No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force.
The agreement additionally emphasizes the transparency of any research conducted in Antarctica and mandates that participants' stations be open for inspections.
Over the years, the total number of treaty signatories reached 54.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia took on its international treaty obligations. As of this writing, Russia is still listed as a party to the Antarctic Treaty.
Replying to a Lead Stories inquiry by email on November 17, 2022, one academic observer from Australia for the 2017 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, Tim Stephens, a professor of international law at the University of Sydney Law School, said:
So far as I am aware, the Russian Federation has not violated the 1959 Antarctic Treaty or the other treaties that make up the Antarctic Treaty System. However, it is certainly fair to say Russia has become a less than cooperative party, as its behaviour at the recent meeting of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources makes clear.
That meeting concluded in Australia on November 4, 2022. During the conference, Russia sided with China and blocked new limitations on fishing in Antarctica again, even though the proposal was supported by 24 other countries.
Article XI of the Antarctic Treaty establishes that parties should settle disputes peacefully -- among themselves or through the International Court of Justice. No reports indicate that any alleged treaty violations by Russia were discussed at recent international meetings of Antarctic Treaty signatories. As of this writing, the website of the International Court of Justice shows no cases about Russia "breaking the Antarctic Treaty."
The claim about Russia purportedly getting ready to break the Antarctic Treaty appeared in The Mirror, a British tabloid, in 2021. The article speculated that the country had maintained its activities on Antarctica, while the COVID-19 pandemic had prompted other treaty signatories to limit their operations. However, the article presented no concrete evidence that those activities went beyond what the Antarctic Treaty allows.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to Antarctica can be found here.