Russia to Launch First Naval Expedition to South Pole in 30 Years

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The Russian navy will go on its first expedition to the Antarctic for the first time in over 30 years before the end of 2015, a Russian Ministry of Defence spokesman told state news agency Itar-Tass.

Russia's territorial interests in the Arctic, rather than the Antarctic, have generated controversy as it shares the world's northernmost waters with four other countries, all of whom are Nato members. Canada, Norway, the US and Denmark, via Greenland, have made territorial claims over the north pole and oil resources.

Now the Russian navy is looking to the south pole, assembling oceanographers, naval researchers and scientists aboard the research vessel Admiral Vladimirskiy for the first time since 1982.

Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo told Tass that although the expedition will be headed by the Russian ministry of defence and navy, he insisted that the crew's interests are scientific. Experts will conduct hydrographic research in order to make amendments to marine and nautical maps, as well as practice guiding a vessel through the difficult waters, assessing the vessels capabilities to perform in the conditions of the Antarctic.

According to Dygalo, the ship is currently undergoing repair work and will be ready for sailing by mid-June. "After that it will undergo all necessary stages of testing in facilities in the Baltic Sea," he added.

Why the expedition is taking place now and why it is being organised by the Ministry of Defence and the navy, Dygalo did not say.

However, Russia has recently planned another visit to the south pole. Its main research station in Antarctica called Vostok (East) received non-military experts in 2012 and scientists backed by the Ministry of Culture were due to visit it once again in 2015-2016. The station is the site of a subglacial lake, also called Vostok, which is the subject of ice core drilling - a process of observing long term changes to the climate through studying layers of ice and snow.

However the approximately $32.7 million price tag ultimately proved too great for Russia's federal budget at the time and the project has been put on hold after the ministry cut the budget by 10%.