The Embassy of the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1


Since the Autumn of 1948 in a number of statements of representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the United States, Great Britain, and several other countries, as well as in articles of the world press, there has been mention of conversations regarding Antarctica which were begun on the initiative of the State Department of the USA, between the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. From these statements of representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of several nations and from the press articles, it appears that the purpose of the conversations is to decide the question of the regime of the Antarctic.

The Government of the USSR cannot agree that such a question as that of the regime of the Antarctic be decided without its participation. [Page 912] In this connection the Soviet Government considers it necessary to call to memory the outstanding contributions of Russian seamen in the discovery of Antarctica. It is a generally recognized fact that the Russian seamen Bellingshausen and Lazarev at the beginning of the 19th century, first reached the coasts of Antarctica, circumnavigated this continent and thus showed the falsity of the widely held view of that time that there was no land at the south polar circle. This contribution of Russian seamen is no less important than the later explorations on the continent itself and on its coasts which were carried out by expeditions of the several countries whose representatives presently proclaim their interest in the determination of the regime of the Antarctic.

As is well known, the territories of Antarctica and the waters lying near it represent a great value from the economic point of view, and on this side of the question the Antarctic continent possesses a significance not only for the states enumerated above who are participating in conversations regarding the regime of the Antarctic, but also for many other states, among them the Soviet Union. It is enough to point out that 9/10ths of the world’s whale catch comes from these very Antarctic waters. The USSR is a participant of the whaling industry and of the International Whaling Convention of 1946. Its whaling flotilla regularly carries on whale fishery in Antarctic waters.

It is necessary to point out the same thing with regard to the scientific significance of Antarctica, in as much as this continent and the islands lying near it are a convenient base for highly important meteorological observations which are also significant for the northern hemisphere.

The attention of the Soviet public has already been directed to the indicated circumstances. In particular, they were noted in a resolution of a general meeting of the Geographic Society of the USSR on February 10, 1949,2 in which the Society underlined the highly important significance of the discoveries of Russian seamen in the Antarctic.

The Soviet Government considers it necessary to state that in accordance with international practice, all interested countries must be brought into participation in consideration of the regime of any region [Page 913] whatsoever which has international significance. The Soviet Government considers that this international practice must also be observed with regard to the decision of the Antarctic question. It has already had occasion to point out in an official note to the Norwegian Government on January 27, 1939, the illegality of a separate solution of the governmental ownership of Antarctica.

As a consequence of the above, the Soviet Government cannot recognize as legal any decision regarding the regime of the Antarctic taken without its participation. It considers that, in as much as the fate of Antarctica is a matter of interest for many countries, it would be expedient at the present time to consider the question of the Antarctic regime on an international level with the view of attaining an agreement which would be in accordance with the legal interests of all interested states.

For its part, the Soviet Government is ready to consider any proposals of interested governments, both regarding the method of considering the indicated question and regarding the character of the Antarctic regime. It will be grateful to the Government of the United States of America for an indication of its point of view on this question.

  1. The source text is a translation prepared in the Office of Eastern European Affairs. The Russian-language original was handed to Under Secretary of State James E. Webb by Soviet Chargé Vladimir Ivanovich Bazykin during a brief call at the Department of State on June 9. The memorandum of conversation recording the call, not printed, indicated that there was no substantive discussion of the Soviet memorandum, but the Under Secretary of State told Chargé Bazykin that it would be given the most careful consideration (702.022/6–850). An identical memorandum was also delivered to the United Kingdom, French, Norwegian, Australian, New Zealand, and Argentine Governments, and the text was printed in the Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestiya on June 10.

    On June 9 officials of the Department of State apprised representatives of the press of the receipt of this communication from the Soviet Embassy which was described as expressing the desire of the USSR to be consulted in any international discussion of Antarctica but not putting forward any territorial claims. The officials explained that the communication was being studied but would not be made public by the Department of State. The officials recalled that in 1948 the United States had informally approached the Governments of Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom regarding the possibility of reaching an agreement on the territorial problems of Antarctica. The officials explained that no action had been taken in the matter, and no international conference was scheduled. A summary of the information made available by the officials of the Department of State was transmitted to overseas missions in Department of State Wireless Bulletin (the official news service of the Department of State, prepared by the Division of International Press and Publications and transmitted daily by radio to various foreign service posts abroad) No. 135, June 9, 1950.

    In the days immediately following receipt of this Soviet memorandum, copies of the translation printed here were made available to the British, French, Norwegian, Australian, New Zealand, and Chilean Embassies in Washington by the Department of State.

  2. At its meeting on February 10, 1949, the U.S.S.R. All-Union Geographic Society, after hearing a report by Academician Lev Semyonovich Berg (the President of the Society) on the early 19th century Antarctic explorations of Russian navigators Captain Faddei Bellinsgauzen (Thaddeus Bellingshausen) and Seaman Mikhail Lazarev, adopted a resolution stating that any decision affecting the Antarctic regime without Soviet participation would lack legal force and that the USSR had every justification not to recognize such decisions. For materials on the American reaction to this resolution, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, pp. 793 ff. For the summary of the meeting and the text of the resolution as printed in the Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestiya, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. i, No. 6, pp. 43–45.