Canada-Russia Arctic tensions rise

Fresh tensions between Canada and Russia emerge after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tells a session of his Security Council that his country must be prepared to defend its claims to Arctic mineral riches.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. ((Associated Press))

Fresh tensions between Canada and Russia emerged Wednesday after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a session of his Security Council that his country must be prepared to defend its claims to Arctic mineral riches.

Medvedev predicted climate change will spark further conflicts as ice melts, exposing new areas for exploration.

"Regrettably, we have seen attempts to limit Russia's access to the exploration and development of the Arctic mineral resources," he said. "That's absolutely inadmissible from the legal viewpoint and unfair given our nation's geographical location and history."

In a direct response, Canada said it would reassert its sovereignty over the Far North at what is shaping up to be a controversial five-country Arctic summit it is hosting in two weeks in Chelsea, Que., outside Ottawa.   

"Canada's sovereignty over lands, islands and waters of the Canadian Arctic is long-standing, well-established and based on historical title," Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, told The Canadian Press.

"This government is dedicated to fulfilling the North's true potential as a healthy, prosperous and secure region within a strong and sovereign Canada. We take our responsibility for the future of the region seriously."

Loubier noted that Canada has committed to building a "world-class" High Arctic research station, will continue to map "our northern resources and waters," and is taking action to reduce pollution and increase marine safety.

The government has also announced a new fleet of Arctic patrol ships, a deep water port, and is expanding and re-equipping the Canadian Rangers.

"Foreign ministers from the other Arctic Ocean coastal states are expected to discuss these issues when they meet on March 29 in Chelsea," she said.

This latest flare-up between Canada and Russia comes as Cannon prepares to host talks with foreign ministers from four other Arctic coastal states — Russia, the United States, Denmark and Norway.

Indeed, all five of those Arctic countries are making claims over parts of the resource-rich region, which experts believe holds one-quarter of Earth's untapped oil and gas reserves.