World | Europe

February 10, 2016

Russia to Present Revised Claim of Arctic Territory to the United Nations

A senior Russian government official on Tuesday formally presented to the United Nations his country’s claim to Arctic Ocean seabed, including an area under the North Pole.

The presentation by the official, Sergei Donskoy, the minister of natural resources, followed a long Russian effort to secure the territory — and mineral rights — under the polar ice cap.

Russia presented a written claim in August, after the United Nations committee that arbitrates disputes over sea boundaries had rejected on technical grounds an earlier application by Russia for the North Pole, submitted in 2002.

In a statement, Mr. Donskoy said he would lay out Russia’s arguments, based on scientific evidence that the continental shelf extends north from the Eurasian land mass far under the planet’s ice cap.

Russia is staking a claim, he said, “to the seabed beyond the 200-mile zone along the entire Russian polar sector including the zone under the North Pole.”

Under a 1982 United Nations convention, the Law of the Sea, a nation may claim an exclusive economic zone over the continental shelf abutting its shores.

If the geological shelf extends far out to sea, the nation can claim mineral resources in the seabed beyond that zone, though the recent oil price slump has dampened the enthusiasm of oil companies for such ventures.

If the United Nations committee accepts Russia’s claim, the seabed under the North Pole would be subject to Moscow’s oversight for activities like oil drilling, though Russia will not have sovereignty over the water or the ice.

Canada, Norway and Denmark have also filed claims, and all have stepped up military activity in what were once icy backwaters on the top of the world, visited only by explorers and polar bears.

In a statement on Tuesday, a Greenpeace campaigner, Mary Sweeters, said that “as the Russian government pursues its claim for expansion of the Arctic shelf, presumably in pursuit of additional fossil fuel resources, they ignore the substantial risks to the local environment and our climate from offshore oil and gas development.”

Russia has also stepped up military activities and oil and gas exploration in the far north, including by rebuilding Cold War-era naval bases and airstrips on the New Siberian Islands, across the Chukchi and East Siberian seas from Alaska.

In the week before the Russian delegation presented its claim to the North Pole in New York, the Ministry of Defense, apparently in all seriousness, released a video depicting Russian soldiers riding in a reindeer sleigh.

With the jingle of sleigh bells, the men, with somber expressions and decked out in white, winter camouflage and carrying Kalashnikov rifles, were shown guiding their sleigh over a snowy landscape.

At one point, the video showed the reindeer sleigh mounted with a belt-fed machine gun.

Still, diplomats and conservationists involved in Arctic policy have drawn a sharp distinction between Russia’s military activities in the far north and the Law of the Sea claim. The claim, they say, is a legal process open also to other nations.

 

Text by The New York Times
 

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