Fears that Russia may once again block Antarctic marine protections amid ongoing war in Ukraine

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By Euronews  with AP
New Zealand's Scott Base in Antarctica.
New Zealand's Scott Base in Antarctica.   -   Copyright  Anthony Powell/Antarctica New Zealand via AP

Concerns are growing that Russia could once again use its veto-like powers to block new marine protected areas and rules to prevent overfishing in Antarctica's waters.

Delegations from Russia and Ukraine are among those meeting in Australia this week to decide the future of Antarctica's pristine waters.

However, tensions within the diverse group of 27, which includes Russia, Ukraine, China, the United States and the European Union, are raising additional challenges.

The two-week meeting, which began on Monday, started with a mass walkout when Russia’s delegates started speaking.

Trying to come to a consensus when two of the members are at war, and with relations between China and many Western nations having strongly deteriorated, is likely to be an even bigger obstacle than usual in the talks.

Russian bombing in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, this month partially destroyed Ukraine's Antarctic research centre.

Ukraine is trying to rebuild the centre, but ongoing drone attacks were making it difficult, said Kostiantyn Demianenko, who is leading the Ukrainian delegation.

Even so, some remain hopeful that scientific arguments will win through. The US is paying more attention to the region under President Joe Biden, and this year has sent a relatively high-level delegation led by Monica Medina, an assistant secretary in the State Department, reports The Associated Press.

In an interview with AP, Medina said Antarctica was “a really fragile, crumbling part of the planet that needs all our help to withstand the challenges we face with climate change.”

The meeting is the first in-person gathering of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resource in three years, after the Covid-19 pandemic kept meetings online.