From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


Russia plants flag on sea floor at North Pole
By C.J. Chivers  /  August 2, 2007

MOSCOW: A Russian expedition traveled Thursday in a pair of
submersibles more than four kilometers under the ice cap and deposited
a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole, making a symbolic
claim to vast fields of oil and natural gas believed to be beneath the
sea north of the Arctic Circle.

The expedition, covered intensely by Russian news organizations and
state-controlled television, mixed high-seas adventure with the
Russian tradition of polar exploration, but it was also an openly
choreographed publicity stunt.

Inside the first of the minisubmarines to reach the sea floor were two
members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament, one of whom, Artur
Chilingarov, had led the expedition to seek evidence reinforcing
Russia’s claim over the largely uncharted domain.

That claim, which has no current legal standing, rests on a Russian
assertion that the seabed under the pole, called the Lomonosov Ridge,
is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf, and thus is Russian

Russia submitted its claim in 2001 to an international commission,
which has thus far ruled that the available data is not sufficient to
support it. But Russia has pressed on.

“We must determine the border, the most northerly of the Russian
shelf,” Chilingarov said on national television before the dive, which
was billed as the first of its sort – a descent into darkness far
beneath a large window cut in the ice sheet by a nuclear-powered ice

After resurfacing several hours later, Chilingarov spoke as if he had
been the first to the moon. “If, a hundred or a thousand years from
now, someone goes down to where we were, they will see the Russian
flag,” he said.

The day’s events underscored both Russia’s restored sense of
confidence and the international competition for access, influence and
extraction rights in the far north, which has intensified as oil and
gas prices have surged and as trends in global warming have encouraged
speculation that the region could become more navigable and

Five countries – Canada, Denmark, Norway Russia and the United States
– have territory in the Arctic Circle and under international
convention have rights to economic zones within 320 kilometers, or 200
miles, of their borders.

Several other countries seek to extend their influence there, seeing
the mostly unpopulated region’s potential for providing a hydrocarbon
and mineral rush. The ultimate demarcation of the area, if geologists’
estimates of its deposits prove true, could be a key to future
national wealth and power.

At least one country with a stake in the outcome registered its
immediate disapproval of the expedition. “This isn’t the 15th
century,” Peter MacKay, Canada’s foreign minister, said on CTV
television. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and
say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, speaking from the
Philippines, ignored criticism of the expedition, saying that Russia’s
claims in the north were sound and in time could be established as

“The goal of this expedition is not to stake out Russia’s rights, but
to prove that our shelf stretches up to the North Pole,” Lavrov said
on Radio Mayak. “There are concrete scientific methods for this.”

The expedition mixed public and private financing, much of which
Chilingarov raised himself. Any new evidence it collected for the
Russian government would eventually have to be submitted to a
commission on continental shelf borders, which is elected by members
of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Russia has had a long tradition of northern exploration and
extraction. Since early Soviet times the Kremlin has had research
stations on the Arctic ice: Stalin first dispatched a team in 1937, at
the height of the Great Terror.

And whatever the merits of any future submission, Russian scientists
marveled at the expedition, which involved two small submarines
descending from a drifting, shifting ice pack to the sea floor.

The submarines, known as the Mir-1 and Mir-2, reached the sea floor
and the first of them left behind the titanium reproduction of the
Russian flag, according to Russia’s official news agency.

Then they ascended, which the scientists said was the more difficult
task, because they had to find their way back to the hole on the
surface. The submarines are too small to break through the ice on
their own, and errant navigation could have left them trapped beneath
the cap.

Once news reached Moscow that the journey had succeeded, scientists
spoke with evident pride. “We can say that is a great technical and
technological achievement,” said Leopold Lobkovskiy, deputy director
of geological studies at the P.P. Shishov Institute of Oceanology in
Moscow, which provided a research vessel to the expedition.

Another scientist, Ivan Frolov, director of the Arctic and Antarctic
Research Institute in St. Petersburg, cautioned that whatever the
brief dive had found, it would do little to settle disputes about
future demarcation. But he noted certain values in the event, which
was one element in the annual summer expedition to study climate, the
sea and the ice.

“I doubt that this one submersion will make a breakthrough in the
problem that is being discussed in the media,” he said. “It was a good
chance to demonstrate the capabilities of this equipment and the
depths that can be reached, and to demonstrate the courage of Mr.
Chilingarov, which is great.”

U.S. Rejects Russian Claim to Mineral-Rich Seabed at North Pole
By Michael Heath  /  Aug. 3 2007

The U.S. said Russia planting its tri-color flag on the seabed under
the North Pole doesn’t validate the former communist country’s claim
to the mineral- rich Arctic territory.

“I’m not sure of whether they’ve put a metal flag, a rubber flag or a
bed sheet on the ocean floor,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey
said in Washington yesterday. “Either way, it doesn’t have any legal
standing or effect on this claim.”

The Mir-1 and Mir-2 mini-submarines yesterday transported six people
about 4.3 kilometers (2.7 miles) to the Arctic Ocean floor under the
polar cap. President Vladimir Putin, citing an “outstanding
scientific project,” thanked the crews during a phone call late
yesterday for placing the Russian flag in a titanium capsule on the
seabed, the Kremlin said on its Web site.

Russia contends the underwater Lomonosov Ridge links Siberia to the
Arctic seabed, which may allow the country to extend its territory.
The area of the Arctic shelf may hold 10 billion tons of oil
equivalent, as well as gold, nickel and diamonds, according to the
Russian government.

“We must determine the border, the most northerly border of the
Russian shelf,” Artur Chilingarov, leader of the expedition and a
lawmaker, said before the dive yesterday, state broadcaster Perviy
Kanal reported on its Web site.

The nuclear-powered ice-breaker Rossiya cut a path for the research
ship Akademik Fyodorov to the North Pole.

Race for Pole

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. have territory within the
Arctic Circle. Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention they
have rights to economic zones in the Arctic Ocean within 200 miles of
their shores. Denmark’s claim is based on its control of Greenland and
the country has undertaken its own territorial surveys in the region.

Russia says the Arctic’s energy and mineral resources are becoming
more accessible because of global warming.

Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday after the dive
that the Russians are “fooling” themselves if they believe they can
simply lay claim to the Arctic.

“You can’t go around the world these days, dropping a flag somewhere.
This isn’t the 14th or 15th century,” MacKay told reporters in
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Russia is seeking the territory through the Law of the Sea convention.
The U.S. is the only state bordering the Arctic Circle that hasn’t
signed the treaty.

The State Department “is very interested and supportive” of the U.S.
Senate ratifying the convention, Casey said yesterday, adding that the
U.S. isn’t in the “ballgame” until it signs the treaty.

Russia submitted a claim in 2001 to extend its continental shelf
beyond 200 miles, he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. A
UN committee determined in 2003 that there wasn’t enough evidence to
support the Russian claim or make a technical ruling on it.

Any new evidence Russia produces from this expedition will be
evaluated by the UN, Casey said. If the explorers “went and spray-
painted a flag of Russia on those particular ridges” it wouldn’t make
“one iota of difference” to Russian claims to the territory, he

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at
mheath1 [at] bloomberg [dot] net .

Polar imperialism

Explorers used to go to the Pole for reasons of endeavour: now it is
about economics.

The Russians did not plant a flag 14,000ft under water below the North
Pole because they wished to show off: they did it because they claim
that area of the Arctic, and assert the right to oil and gas reserves

We have seen the bullying way in which Russia uses its energy
resources to exert power over other nations, especially its
neighbours. No state should regard this claim on the Arctic as either
flippant or desirable.

A coastline thousands of miles long separates Russia from the Arctic.
If this proximity is to justify a claim – and that would be a dubious
precedent even in international law – then Canada, America, Greenland
and Norway are all in with a shout.

There is, though, no reason why proximity should regulate ownership of
the Arctic, even though it is a desert of ice. And it would certainly
be foolish for the rest of the world, and not only the four possible
other claimants, to let Russia’s pretensions in this area go

As well as the long-term economic benefit that Russia will hope to
gain from control of so much Arctic territory, this is also an
enterprise aimed to cheer up a Russian people who have much to be
miserable about.

It is the sort of activity that detracts attention from the
gangsterism that soils Russia – some of it practised by that country’s
government – and from the arbitrary and cruel behaviour of President
Putin towards those who disagree with him and criticise him, an
alarming number of whom meet early deaths.

The free world should have its share of whatever energy reserves lie
beneath the Arctic. That Russia has so many resources is only a
problem because of its capricious and occasionally blackmailing

A diplomatic settlement – of an appropriately hard-minded nature that
does not allow Russia to dictate terms in the way it is so used to
doing in multilateral negotiations – must be sought urgently.

Academician Fedorov vessel is expected to reach the North Pole on
August 1. The manned deep-sea Mir-1 and Mir-2 bathyscaphes will
submerge there, RIA Novosti reported with reference to Arctic and
Antarctic Research Institute of Rosgidromet.

Academician Fedorov ship and Rossia icebreaker that accompanies it en
route to the North Pole are currently at 86 degree of northern
latitude, spokesman of Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute said
referring to the vessel’s captain. “The ice situation enables to
suppose that both ships will reach the North Pole August 1,” he

The deep-sea diving is slated for August 1 or 2, RIA Novosti reported
earlier with reference to Sergey Balyasnikov, aide to PR director of
Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.

It will be the first time that Mir-1 and Mir-2 dive in the North Pole.
President of Polar Explorers’ Association Artur Chilingarov will be in
one of the bathyscaphes. The depth of the Arctic Ocean at the diving
point is roughly 4,200 meters.

Moreover, the explorers will set a titanium capsule with Russia’s flag
on the ocean’s bottom.

But the key aim of this northern effort of Russia is apparently to
specify borders of its shelf from Novosibirsk to the North Pole. The
significance of this correction is hard to overestimate. The Arctic
ice lost nearly 20 percent in the last two decades and today’s concern
of the bordering nations is to stake competition claims for the area’s
wealth. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Arctic seabed and
subsoil account for 25 of global undiscovered reserves of crude oil
and gas.

CHARLOTTETOWN – Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay is
dismissing an expedition that has sought to validate Russia’s claim to
sovereignty over a large portion of the Arctic Ocean.

“There is no question over Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. We’ve
made that very clear.

We’ve established – a long time ago – that these are Canadian waters
and this is Canadian property.” MacKay said Thursday while attending
the federal Conservative summer strategy session in Charlottetown.

“You can’t go around the world these days dropping a flag somewhere.
This isn’t the 14th or 15th century.”

Two deep-diving Russian mini-submarines descended more than four
kilometres under North Pole ice to stake a flag on the ocean floor
Thursday, part of a quest to bolster Russian claims to much of the
Arctic’s oil-and-mineral wealth.

Despite the dangers of diving under 1.5-metre thick polar ice, both
mini-submarines returned safely to the surface Thursday afternoon, the
ITAR-Tass news agency reported, quoting Vice-President of Federation
of Polar Explorers, Vladimir Strugatsky.

The voyage had some scientific goals, including studies of the
climate, geology and biology of the polar region. But its chief aim
appeared to be to advancing Russia’s political and economic influence
by strengthening its legal claims to the Arctic.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin called the mission participants
after their return, congratulating them on a successful mission, the
Kremlin said.

MacKay said the Law of the Sea protocol, which Russia and Canada have
both signed, “would immediately kick in were there to be any dispute.”

“And there is dispute. This is Canadian territory, plain and simple.”

MacKay says recent announcements about new frigates for Arctic patrols
should the government’s commitment to the sovereignty of the north.

“This is posturing,” MacKay said of the Russian move. “This is the
true north strong and free, and they’re fooling themselves if they
think dropping a flag on the ocean floor is going to change anything.”

Canada plans to spend C$7.5 billion to build and operate up to eight
Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.

The Russians are not the only ones eyeing the Arctic seabed. Denmark
hopes to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Danish
territory of Greenland, not Russia.

In the coming weeks, expedition researchers plan to set up an Arctic
research camp near the pole, called a “drift station” because it will
drift with the shifting ice pack in the polar sea, to carry out long-
range climate studies. The scientific research ship Akademik Fyodorov
is expected to remain in the region until mid-September.