Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that it has requested the United Nations recognisation the expansion of its territory in the Arctic, which would see its zone of control extend from its northern coast all the way to the North Pole.
Russia aims to claim 1.2 million square kilometers of the resource-rich Arctic Sea, expanding its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by more than 350 nautical miles, the statement said.
The expansion would give Russia the right to exploit 594 oil fields and 159 gas fields believed to be hidden under the sea bed, totalling an estimated five billion tons of untapped reserves.
According to the Barents Observer the equivalent of 60 percent of Russia’s total hydrocarbon resources are said to be present in region, as well as two large nickel fields and over 350 gold deposits.
Under current international sea laws EEZs are limited to 200 miles from a country’s coastline, but by demonstrating that the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleev ridges are geologically part of the Russian continental shelf, Moscow hopes to convince the UN of its claims to the Arctic.“The claim determining the outer borders of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean is based on the scientific understanding that the central Arctic underwater ridges, among them the Lomonosov, Mendeleev, Alpha and Chukotskiy Heights, as well as the in between basins of Podvodnikov and Chukotsky, have a continental character,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry says.
The UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf confirmed Russia’s request on its official website, saying the submission “will be included in the provisional agenda of the next ordinary session.”
A previous attempt by Russia to convince the UN of its claims to the Arctic failed in 2002 when the UN rejected the bid on the basis of insufficient evidence in favour of Russia’s claim, but Russia now argues "ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research” backs its claim.
The receding ice sheet in the Arctic Sea has made the exploration and exploitation of previously undiscovered resources viable, and led to northern countries including Russia, the US, Canada, Denmark and Norway vying to assert their dominance in the region, which is believed to hold around a quarter of the world’s untapped oil and gas reserves.
In 2007 a Russian submarine dropped a canister containing a titanium Russian flag on the sea bed directly under the North Pole, as the country continues to boost its military presence in the region, having assigned 45,000 troops to participate in a huge military drill in March which included war planes and submarines.
Russia has already committed to a $500 million plan to establish as many as 40 ports, airfields and radar stations as part of a new defence programme in the Arctic, causing concern over the militarisation of the region.
Canada, which is also expected to make a similar bid to expand its EEZ in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, held a smaller scale military exercise involving 200 Canadian Army Regular and Reserve Force soldiers in the same month.
During Russia’s military drill in March, Norway held "Joint Viking" drills involving 5,000 troops in Finnmark county near the Russian border. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg also announced Norway is planning to drill further north in the Barents Sea.
In April Norway summoned the Russian ambassador to Oslo after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited a Russian mining town on the northern Norwegian island of Svalbard unannounced in breach of a travel ban enforced on the politician after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year.
At the end of last year, Denmark, which claims rights to the Arctic due to its sovereignty over Greenland, also submitted a proposal seeking to expand its EEZ by 895,000 square kilometres after insisting the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of Greenland.
The United States, which also qualifies through its sovereignty over Alaska, may likewise make a similar bid in the future, further complicating territorial claims.
However, Deputy Director of the Marine Geology Division at Russian Academy of Sciences Oceanology institute Leopold Lobkovsky has argued that Russia’s bid adds “wind into the sails of Denmark and Canada's bids.”
"The continental ridges stretch from our [Russian] territory to Canada and Denmark. We can extend the shelf [along the ridges] and they can as well. If this model is passed, the ridge can be shared between the three countries geometrically, counting kilometers," Lobkovsky told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.