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Ceremony to launch a new wintering complex at Vostok station

January 28, 2024, St Petersburg

Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took part, via videoconference, in the ceremony for launching trial operation of a new wintering complex at the Vostok station in Antarctica.

Founded in 1957, the Vostok station is located on the Antarctic ice dome at an altitude of 3,500 metres. The new wintering complex is a modular construction consisting of five blocks, covering an area of more than 3,000 square meters. It is designed to comfortably accommodate of up to 15 people in the wintering period and up to 35 people during the regular season.

Two residential blocks feature laboratories, personal rooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a recreation area, a gym, a sauna, and a medical centre with an operating room. The other two blocks are engineering facilities with boiler rooms, storage rooms, and electrical panel rooms with a generator. The fifth block contains a garage, a workshop, and a snow melter. The complex is insulated with mineral wool up to 95 cm thick, and the facade is made of composite panels that are resistant to extreme low temperatures. All the main equipment – for heating, energy and water supply – are Russian-made.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, Mr Lukashenko, good afternoon. Greetings to everyone.

The launch of the new wintering complex at the legendary Vostok station is a significant, landmark event for our polar scientists. I believe that is also significant for the whole country – I will explain why shortly, and I am sure you will understand the importance for the whole country – for our country, our partners, and our friends.

One of the key roles in the research and exploration of this continent belongs to our explorers and trailblazers. We cannot forget the Russian expedition led by naval officers Lazarev and Bellingshausen, who discovered this ice continent, as they called it, a little over two centuries ago.

This is our shared history, the history of our ancestors’ endeavours, which both Russia and Belarus are rightfully proud of. It is well-known that our scientists have been actively working in the Antarctic since 1955, making hundreds of ground-breaking discoveries that have expanded the boundaries of knowledge.

Five Russian research stations operate on the continent year-round. The Vostok station is the southernmost facility, although in this case, the word “southern” has a completely different meaning than in our northern latitudes. The south in the Antarctic is synonymous with harsh and extreme conditions. The Vostok station is located right at the planet’s Pole of Cold, with temperatures reaching −80° Celsius in August, which, I believe, is the coldest month of the year. Our colleagues currently stationed there will confirm this. In the 1980s, as far as I know, the temperatures reached −89° Celsius.

I repeat, the conditions at the Vostok station are, without any exaggeration, truly extreme. It is situated at a high altitude, almost 3,500 metres above the sea level, with low oxygen level, extremely dry air, and high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Additionally, it is located about 1,500 kilometres from the seashore and experiences five months of complete darkness during the polar night.

It is hard to imagine these truly extreme conditions, but the polar explorers, scientists, and various professionals not only live there but also work and implement large-scale research programmes. This is truly a feat. One can only imagine the challenges faced by those who live and work in such an environment.

Moreover, until recently, the conditions at the station were quite basic, ascetic even, and far from the modern comforts. The last overhaul took place over 40 years ago. The earliest structures, as far as I know, were buried under snow long ago, while those built somewhat later have sunk, partially or fully, up to five meters deep in snow.

However, the situation has changed, and the station’s capabilities have improved significantly. Today, it is one of the most modern and well-equipped facilities in the Antarctic. Therefore, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have contributed to the creation of this new wintering complex, including, of course, NOVATEK.

Mr Leonid Mikhelson is on the line. Mr Mikhelson, I remember how you repeatedly – actually, twice in 2019 and 2021 – reported to the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographical Society about this project.

The project, in fact, is highly complex: it required the development of unique technologies and engineering solutions, as well as the production of the station’s components, creating a “turn-key” modern and comfortable complex with a very high safety factor. By the way, all the equipment – Mr Mikhelson will probably speak on this point – including heating, ventilation, electricity, and water supply – was made in Russia. The company has invested several billion roubles in the project and has handed it over to state ownership in its entirety. Mr Mikhelson, I want to thank you once again.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the station builders and convey my admiration for them and, of course, everyone who participated in the most complex operation to transport the modules: naval crews and teams of sledge-caterpillar trains.

All this equipment was transported by two motor ships accompanied by a diesel icebreaker, a tanker, and then by a sledge-caterpillar crossing covering almost 1,500 km. Moreover, the first 250 km are an ascent to a height of 2,500 m through loose snow and sastrugi (long, high, hard snow ridges) at a temperature of minus 50 degrees.

It is truly impressive.

Usually, the trip from Thala Bay and the Progress coastal station to the top of the continent, where the Vostok station is located, takes a month. You managed to cover the icy Antarctic desert in just eleven days, with a huge cargo, working in temperatures of fifty degrees below zero. From what I can gather, since the situation was so extreme, the builders underwent special training designed for Elbrus climbers, because the conditions in Antarctica are very similar to the conditions on the highest mountain in Europe.

Thanks to your courage and dedication, the work of the Vostok station has been given a powerful development boost, and the long, glorious history of our presence in Antarctica will be continued.

The new wintering complex is perhaps the best gift for the anniversary 70th Russian Antarctic Expedition to be launched this autumn and the key to the successful fulfilment of the expedition’s tasks that are important for Russia and for the entire world science, and there are, of course, a lot of tasks. These include monitoring solar activity and other “space weather” phenomena that affect both technology and humans, as well as studying the role of Antarctica in global climate change. Already, there are many questions and achievements on this path. And of course, it was very important to create conditions for the continuation of the work that is so necessary for Russia and for all of humanity.

I am sure that the new station will help strengthen cooperation between scientists and researchers of various countries and will become an open platform for dealing with relevant issues regarding nature and environment studies, and, of course, for promoting joint research and innovative programmes within the Russia-Belarus Union State. I know our plans called for holding a video link-up with our Belarusian colleagues, but it is impossible due to the weather conditions there.

We will definitely work together, just like the members of the 16th Belarusian and 69th Russian Antarctic expeditions are working now side by side. President Lukashenko will tell us more about this. I only want to add that the tasks that our Polar explorers are facing are very important and interesting.

A good example is the ongoing research of the Vostok subglacial lake. Research there has already brought unique data, and I am confident that with the new wintering complex and the assistance of our Belarusian colleagues, the work will be more intensive, leading to more significant discoveries in global science.

I remember that in 1970, my colleagues told me about the development of unique technologies in deep ice drilling. The glacial samples showed that over the past 420,000 years, there have been four full climate cycles, from warming to glaciation. Fascinating, isn’t it?

President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Very much.

Vladimir Putin: So, this is the schedule, and we can see where we are going.

In 2022–2023, drilling continued. By the way, together with our colleagues from the global community, we had long discussions about continuing this drilling, and until the international community was sure that Russia was providing advanced technologies that helped protect the environment and complied with environmental protection requirements, the drilling was suspended. It was resumed only 10 years after the technology was developed. In 2022–2023, 80.8 metres of ice core was recovered, revealing the age of the lower layers to be up to a million years.

I want to thank again all those who contributed to the creation of the new wintering complex at the Vostok Station, and I wish you great success in all your endeavours.

I know that in 2025–2027, several billions will be required to continue this work. The Government has not made the decision yet, but it will. I can assure you that everything will be done in time. Thank you very much. I am happy to give the floor to Mr Lukashenko.

Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin,

You have described everything in such detail, but I was most impressed by what you said before our videoconference.

You put it in a very interesting way – the fourth cycle in the past 420 million years.

Vladimir Putin: Thousand.

Alexander Lukashenko: 420 thousand years is almost half a million years.

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Alexander Lukashenko: Four such cycles have passed. I am saying this just in jest, but it would be interesting to know what cycle and what point we are at, when this cooling or warming will come to us but better not during our lives or our children’s lives. Because we want not only us to exist but the planet too.

What you told me is beyond understanding. It is hard to even realise that our researchers and scientists are reaching certain conclusions beyond our comprehension because when we fail to understand something we can sometimes feel uncomfortable or uneasy. I believe they are really doing a very good job.

I would also like to go along with the words of the President and congratulate all of you on the opening of the new wintering complex at the Vostok Station. The NOVATEK people have done a great job. A handsome amount, billions of rubles have been invested to create a comfortable, warm and attractive place for our people there.

Our station is located next door, only 20 kilometres away, but the weather at the moment makes it impossible to cover this distance. However, I believe that the time will come when communications will be fixed and Russian scientists will inform their Belarusian colleagues about the situation that is taking shape in the Antarctic, which remains the least explored continent on the planet.

Nobody can match Russia for pace in exploring the Antarctic. Russia is the leader in this respect today. We had a great country – the Soviet Union – and we worked together. Many researchers from various cities and villages used to work there. Those who hoped all this would disappear were wrong. Quite the contrary, exploration of the continent has reached a new level.

Here, I would also like to thank our Russian friends who have been helping Belarusian scientists with accommodation at their stations, supporting research, sharing scientific data, lending equipment. I know our equipment is being used, too. I was told that in 2018–2020, an ultraviolet photometer designed by a Belarusian university was put into operation. I believe the programme will continue using this equipment. I will pay closer attention to the development of this sector of science and practice in Belarus.

To be honest, I am not as deeply into this subject as my colleague, President Putin, but this will strongly encourage development. We will work on this seriously.

President Putin gave a very brief overview of the history, prehistory, and even scared us a bit with those cycles. I hope to God, scientists make a mistake in our favour.

We are very proud to be part of this.

Once again, I thank the Russians, and you, Mr Putin, because you are paying a lot of attention to this. But what is attention? It’s a lot of money. It’s not just around the corner, you have to fly there. Our comrades from the Russian ministry still cannot get there because of the prevailing weather conditions. I asked the President: “How do you fly there?” It turns out that we need to go via Chile, possibly Argentina. Well, you have to fly to the ends of the Earth, and then go by icebreaker or by plane. And then you have to practically walk to this station, using a sled or tracks.

This is a feat. You are performing a feat. We are proud of you. Thank you very much. I emphasise this once again: we, Belarusians, will be more actively involved in these processes.

Live well together. We are brothers, we have nothing to fight about. The contribution to science should come from both Russia and Belarus.

I wish you success and good health. I know that you cannot get sick there because there is no virus and the air is clean at an altitude of 3,000 metres, although things are not easy there. I have been at an altitude of about 3,500 metres above sea level more than once. I must say that it is hard to even stand, let alone work at that altitude. So, you are heroes; you are well-trained. I wish you success.

Once again, I would like to thank the NOTATEK people who invested in this project. We are also very obliged to you. I wish you success, high spirits and good health.

Thank you, Mr President, for introducing me to this sector of science and practice.


January 28, 2024, St Petersburg