« Russian North Pole research station. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia to Annex Huge Chunk of North Pole

On June 27, Russia announced an astounding plan that would make the world’s largest country even larger—by appropriating an area of frozen, ice-strewn Arctic the size of Germany, France and Italy combined.

Russian scientists, recently returned from an Arctic expedition to the zone, support Putin’s claims, citing new data apparently showing that Russia’s northern region is directly linked to the North Pole via an underwater shelf known as the Lomonosov ridge.

Russian media called the discovery “sensational news,” especially since the area is estimated to hold 10 billion tons of gas and oil deposits. Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper heralded the announcement by printing a large map of the North Pole depicting Russia’s new arctic “addition” colored over with a Russian flag.

According to Sergey Priamikov, the international cooperation director of Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg, the shelf in the disputed area is only 200 meters deep, and oil and gas would be easy to extract, especially with the extensive ice melting that has occurred over the last several years.

Elsewhere in the world, the announcement provoked international outrage, especially from the United States and Canada, but also from Norway and Denmark, which have coastlines bordering the Arctic as well.

Under international law, countries encircling the Arctic are limited to a 200-mile economic zone around their coasts. A UN convention says that no country can claim jurisdiction over the Arctic because the geological structure of the seabed does not match the surrounding continental shelves.

By claiming that the Lomonosov ridge is attached to the Russian mainland, Russia is essentially claiming that its geological continental shelf extends into the Arctic. Actually, the ridge extends all the way across the Arctic and into Canada. If Russia’s claim is successful, a precedent could be set for more Russian Arctic annexations. Sergey Priamikov says that using Russia’s own logic, “Canada could make exactly the same claim,” he said. “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.”

Ted Nield, of the Geological Society in London, also says Russia’s claim is faulty. “The notion that geological structures can somehow dictate ownership is deeply peculiar.”

According to one British diplomatic source, the recent annexation attempt is just the latest step in Russia’s drive to secure its grip on energy supplies “for decades to come.” He said, “Putin wants a strong Russia, and Western dependence on it for oil and gas supplies is a key part of his strategy. He no longer cares if it upsets the West” (Daily Mail, June 29).

However this episode unfolds, it uniquely demonstrates just how confident and ambitious Putin-led Russia is becoming. Possessing the world’s largest natural gas reserves and being the world’s second-largest oil exporter, Russia already holds control over much of the world’s energy sources, and it is gaining more. This trend has major global ramifications. Recent events demonstrate that Russia is more than willing to use energy domination as a weapon against Western nations, and as a binding agent with its fuel-hungry Asian neighbors.

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