Staking claim to the Arctic is top priority for Russia, envoy says
Russia will modernize its icebreaker fleet and station more researchers in the Arctic as part of its push to stake its claim to the vast resources of the disputed polar region, a presidential envoy said Thursday.
Artur Chilingarov, a famed polar scientist who was recently appointed to the post, said that Russia's sizable icebreaker fleet gives the nation a strong edge in Arctic exploration.
He said that Russia would build a new Arctic research ship to supplement the Akademik Fyodorov, which conducted a 2007 expedition in which Russian mini-submarines put a capsule with Russian flag on the Arctic seabed.
Canada, Russia, the United States and other northern countries are trying to assert jurisdiction over the Arctic, whose oil, gas and minerals until recently have been considered too difficult to recover.
The dispute has intensified with growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes and resource development possibilities.
Chilingarov told reporters that Russia is also preparing to send a team of some 50 polar scientists to the island of Spitsbergen, where Norway claims exclusive rights. He said an advance team will leave Saturday to chose the place for the station.
"The Arctic has a special geopolitical importance for Russia," Chilingarov said at a news conference on Thursday.
Chilingarov said the government's policy guidelines on the Arctic envisage "expanding the Russian presence there, intensifying research and rebuilding a network of polar stations."
In 2007, Chilingarov led two Russian mini-submarines on a mission to stake Russia's claim to the region that is believed to contain huge oil and gas reserves. The two subs descended some four kilometres to the Arctic seabed, where they collected geologic and water samples, and dropped a titanium canister containing the Russian flag.
The Russian mission exacerbated the controversy over an area which is believed to contain as much as 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon insisted last month that Ottawa's claims to the Arctic is recognized internationally.
Cannon said Canada is emphasizing its position to members of the Arctic Council — Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, the United States and Russia — as well as the European Union.
The minister said Canada defined its Arctic policy in the 2007 throne speech and has since announced a number of measures, including plans to strengthen its Arctic military infrastructure.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the Northwest Territories and Yukon last August. The following month, he expressed concerns about Moscow's efforts to advance Russian claims on the Arctic.
Ottawa has made moves to increase the jurisdiction of Canadian environmental law over northern waters and announced a requirement that large ships passing through Canada's Arctic waterways register with the Canadian Coast Guard.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said last fall that Russia's long-term development and competitive place in world markets is dependent on developing Arctic resources.
Chilingarov said that Russia is preparing to resubmit its claim that an underwater mountain range crossing the polar region is part of Russia's continental shelf. Moscow first submitted the claim in 2001 to the United Nations, but it was rejected for lack of evidence.
Chilingarov said that Russia took notice of NATO officials' meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, last month at which they said the alliance will need a military presence in the Arctic as major powers rush to lay claim to lucrative energy reserves.
"We aren't going to wage a new Cold War in the Arctic," Chilingarov said, adding, however, that Russia will look to protect its interests.