Thursday, September 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Prepares to Challenge the West on Arctic Delimitation

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 18 – President Dmitry Medvedev told the Russian Security Council yesterday that Russia must “in the nearest future” define the border of Russia’s claims to the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, an action that will present a serious challenge to the other Arctic powers, including the United States.
“Our first and fundamental task,” Medvedev said, “is to convert the Arctic into a resource base for the Russia of the 21st century” by demanding that the international community recognize Moscow’s claims to an exclusion zone based on the extent of the continental shelf extending from Russia proper (
According to the Russian president, Russia must guarantee its “energy security” by ensuring that it has unchallenged access to oil and gas reserves under the Arctic Ocean and its role as a bridge between Europe and Asia by guaranteeing that it and no one else controls the Northern shipping route that global warming is opening up.
Following Medvedev’s lead which had been anticipated by a meeting last week of some members of the Russian Security Council on an Arctic island, that body approved a policy document on “The Basic Features of Russia’s State Policy in the Arctic” which calls for the government to come up with plans for its realization by December 1st.
Moscow has already signaled its intention to take a very forward position in the far north. On the one hand, it has organized a series of scientific expeditions intended to provide evidence for Russian claims over the largest area of the Arctic. And on the other, Gazprom has already created a daughter company to develop the undersea gas fields.
As “Gazeta” pointed out today, Russian claims in this regard have already sparked “a sharp dispute” between Moscow and the other Arctic states, with the United States, Canada and Denmark being especially concerned and with the EU saying in March 2008 that Russia’s claims could threaten its relations with Moscow (
After providing an overview of the century-long dispute about the Arctic, the paper quotes Anatoly Dmitriyevsky, the director of the Moscow Oil and Gas Institute, who said that the Arctic Ocean seabed had “five times more” oil and gas and other useful minerals than does the Pacific.
Consequently, he said, the discovery by Russian researchers in 2006 and 2007 that two undersea crests extend that country’s continental shelf much further than anyone had been able to prove before – although no further than the Soviet Union had claimed as early as 1926 – provides Russia with the whip hand in negotiations about the delimitation of the Arctic.
But on this point, none of the other Arctic powers agrees with the claims Dmitriyevsky notes and that Medvedev and the Russian Security Council are now preparing to advance formally, with one US State Department official even saying that Washington looks on them “extremely skeptically” (
Given that – and the reaction of other Arctic power like Canada and Norway which have been more explicit in rejecting Russian claims -- the Arctic Ocean basin seems certain to be heating up over the next few months and not just because of the now much-reported effects of global warming.

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