Russia's making a grab
for new territory. This should be interesting to watch as it plays out:
It is already the world's biggest country, spanning 11 time zones and stretching from Europe to the far east. But yesterday Russia signalled its intention to get even bigger by announcing an audacious plan to annex a vast 460,000 square mile chunk of the frozen and ice-encrusted Arctic.
According to Russian scientists, there is new evidence backing Russia's claim that its northern Arctic region is directly linked to the North Pole via an underwater shelf.
To extend a zone, a state has to prove that the structure of the continental shelf is similar to the geological structure within its territory. Under the current UN convention on the laws of the sea, no country's shelf extends to the North Pole. Instead, the International Seabed Authority administers the area around the pole as an international area.
"Frankly I think it's a little bit strange," Sergey Priamikov, the international co-operation director of Russia's Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg, told the Guardian. "Canada could make exactly the same claim. The Canadians could say that the Lomonosov ridge is part of the Canadian shelf, which means Russia should in fact belong to Canada, together with the whole of Eurasia."
The shelf was 200 metres deep and oil and gas would be easy to extract, especially with ice melting because of global warming, he said.
Russia first made a submission in 2001 to the UN commission on the limits of the continental shelf, seeking to push Russia's maritime borders beyond the existing 200-mile zone. It was rejected.
But the latest scientific findings are likely to prompt Russia to lodge another confident bid - and will alarm the US, which is mired in a 13-year debate over ratification of a UN treaty governing international maritime rights.
The Law of the Sea Treaty is the world's primary means of settling disputes over exploitation rights and navigational routes in international waters. Russia and 152 other countries have ratified it.
But the US has refused, arguing it gives too much power to the UN. If the US does not ratify it, Russia's bid for the Arctic's energy wealth will go unchallenged, proponents believe.