March 27, 2009

Russia Staking Huge Claim In Race For Arctic Resources

Russia is jumping into the pack of those taking advantage of the natural resources of the Arctic, now vulnerable from global warming, the Kremlin's special representative said.

Scientists note the ice is melting so quickly that drilling for oil and gas high in the Arctic will soon become normal and sea transportation between the Atlantic and Pacific will be much faster than the currents routes.

This profitable scenario has started brutal competition between nations with Arctic coastlines to emphasize their power.

"Russia's national interest lies there," said Artur Chilingarov, presidential envoy for international partnership in the Arctic and Antarctic.

"We have worked in the Arctic and we are working there now. There is of course (competition)...But we are not going to stand still," he added Reuters.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in 2008 that he was concerned that Russia might break international law in staking its claim.

Chilingarov feels that Russia would follow international law, but notes that it had a special say to parts bordering the country.

"Look at the map. Who is there nearby? All our northern regions are in or come out into the Arctic," he said. "All that is in our northern, Arctic regions. It is our Russia."

International law lies out that the five states with an Arctic Ocean coastline, Canada, Denmark via Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States, have a 200 mile zone north of their borders. However, Russia wants a bigger part because they feel that the seabed underneath the Arctic is a part of the Siberian continental shelf.

Russia's critics say it is merely a power play to re-assert itself as a geopolitical leader, but Chilingarov said it is all about science.

"Based on scientific observations, we will prove our connection to that shelf (and) we will prove it in the framework of international norms and laws."

Russia will not wait for the science issue to be determined before they expand into the Arctic. Awaiting amplification in international traffic as the ice thaws, Russia is creating legislation that will merge its power over who travel through.

The planned legislation is similar to the Soviet-era limitations already in use, but those who had wished that Russia would allow the route become an international waterway will be sorely disappointed.

They feel that Russian fees are "discriminatory," stated Douglas Brubaker from Norway's Fridtjof Nansen Institute.

Chilingarov denied this flatly. "We are not squeezing anyone out," he insisted. "There is a sea-faring rule: sailing in the sea, and especially in ice, is not without risks. That is all. We are taking on ourselves the responsibility for safe navigation."