Russia claims North Pole by planting flag on seabed

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Underwater depth map of the Arctic Ocean, showing the Lomonosov Ridge running from the New Siberian Islands over the North Pole to the Canadian Arctic islands.

Russian expedition Arktika 2007 made the first descent to the ocean bottom below the North Pole, and planted a titanium flag of Russia on the seabed.

Submarines have in the past traveled below the Arctic ice cap, but this is the first time man has reached the seabed below the North Pole. The Mir-1 and a second Mir-2 submarine face the challenge of diving 13,980 feet (4,261 metres) deep, and then having to resurface at the exact location where they've submerged, because they are not strong enough to penetrate the ice themselves. The nuclear ice-breaker vessel Rossiya is keeping the ice open for the research ship and the submarines.

The expedition ship Akademik Fyodorov is carrying over 100 scientists to the North Pole. "Apart from the purely scientific goal of a comprehensive study of the climate and seabed at the North Pole, this expedition may help Russia to enlarge its territory by more than one million square kilometers," the Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute said. The mini-submarine Mir-1 has successfully reached the Arctic seabed. "Our mission is to remind the whole world that Russia is a great polar and research power," said expedition leader and deputy speaker of the Russian parliament Artur Chilingarov, who has been named presidential envoy to the Arctic by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Political reactions

Some Western politicians have portrayed the planting of Russia's flag on the seabed as Russia's territorial claim. Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark (through Greenland) have an Exclusive Economic Zone 200 miles north of their Arctic coastline, established under international laws. Russia is claiming a larger area, extending to the North Pole, saying that a continental shelf called the Lomonosov Ridge runs from Siberia on the Arctic seabed to the North Pole. As such, it would be an extension of Russian territory.

  This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say 'We're claiming this territory'  

Peter MacKay, Foreign Minister of Canada

In 2001, Russia made a case with the United Nations to extend its boundaries to the Arctic, but the U.N. requested more scientific data to strengthen the Russian case. The current mission is collecting evidence to submit another request in 2009, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Canada and Denmark last year sent out a joint mission to establish whether the Lomonosov Ridge is connected to their territories, and Norway is investigating this possibility too. Last May, U.S. senator Richard Lugar (Rep, Indiana) said that it would be difficult to negotiate about Russia's claims as long as the U.S. has not ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that any issues about Russia's claims would be resolved "in strict compliance with international law."

The claimed territory could contain undiscovered natural resources such as oil and gas, media sources speculate.


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