Russia is resubmitting its claim of more than 460,000 square miles of the Arctic, including the North Pole, as its sovereign territory, saying it has enough evidence to convince the United Nations that its claim is valid.
The Arctic, which is believed to contain as much as one-quarter of Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas, is part of a territorial dispute involving not only Russia but also Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States.
This is the second time Moscow has submitted a claim in the Arctic. The U.N. rejected its effort in 2002, saying the Russian government hadn’t provided enough evidence that it had a right to the territory.
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But in its claim filed on Aug. 3, the Russian Foreign ministry said, “To justify Russia’s rights in this area, ample scientific data collected during many years of Arctic research has been used.”
The statement evidently was referring to exploratory missions and development of Arctic research facilities and floating ice stations dating back to the 1930s. In fact, around that time Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s Kremlin claimed a large section of the Arctic Ocean.
No one took that claim very seriously, given its forbidding climate. But as the polar ice cap melts, the region is becoming increasingly attractive to countries and companies in search of new sources of energy and other natural resources, including gems and precious metals.
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Additional evidence in the resubmitted claim includes data gathered by the explorer Artur Chilingarov, who sailed a miniature submarine to the floor of the Arctic Sea at the North Pole, scooped up a soil sample there and even planted a Russian flag made of titanium, the corrosion-resistant metal.
Under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation may claim an “exclusive economic zone” reaching 200 nautical miles from its recognized maritime borders. If the continental shelf in that area extends beyond that point, the country then may claim sovereignty stretching as much as 350 nautical miles from its coastal border.
In the Foreign Ministry statement, Russia argues that the 350-mile limit doesn’t apply to its claim because the seabed and the natural resources to be found beneath it are “natural components of the continent,” no matter how far they are from the coast.
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The Foreign Ministry said it hopes the U.N. can begin considering its claim this autumn during a meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. That won’t be possible this year, according to Farhqan Haq, a U.N. spokesman, because the panel won’t meet until early 2016.
Until then, he said, Moscow’s revised claim would be distributed among all the U.N.’s 193 members.
Greenpeace was quick to respond to Russia’s Arctic claim. Vladimir Chuprov, an Arctic campaigner for the group, issued a statement saying, “The melting of the Arctic ice is uncovering a new and vulnerable sea, but countries like Russia and Norway want to turn it into the next Saudi Arabia. Unless we act together, this region could be dotted with oil wells and fishing fleets within our lifetimes.”
Instead of pursuing claims to exploit the territory, Chuprov said, the countries seeking rights in the Arctic should cooperate on establishing a protected sanctuary around the North Pole.
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com