September 24, 2010

Putin Speaks Out About Energy-rich Arctic Circle

Russia's prime minister said Thursday that the Arctic Circle must remain a "zone of peace" as Russia and its polar neighbors rush to stake their claims on the region's energy-rich seabed.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said: "We think it is imperative to keep the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation," while speaking at the Arctic Forum in Moscow.

"We all know that it is hard to live alone in the Arctic," Putin said, calling for foreign capital to take advantage of the Russian Arctic.

"We have heard futuristic predictions threatening a battle for the Arctic." Although, he added, most frightening "scenarios about the Arctic do not have any real basis."

Iceland's President Olafur Grimsson asked for an end to "Cold War" tensions over the Arctic, saying the time for such a struggle had passed.

Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States are battling over how to share Arctic resources and shipping routes as experts predict the region could be ice-free due to global warming in as little as 20 years.

More than 25 percent of the world's unexploited energy resources are believed to be buried in the sea floor under the North Pole.

But with environmental pressure from conservationists and forum participants, Putin has pledged to protect the region's delicate ecology.

"Not one industrial project in the Russian Arctic will be undertaken without consideration for the strictest ecological demands. This is a key position of the Russian Federation," Putin vowed.

The Lomonosov ridge, an underwater mountain range stretching from Greenland to Russia, remains the hotbed for countries trying to claim rights to the Arctic floor.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said last week that he was confident his country would win the territory. "We will exercise sovereignty in the Arctic," he told Russian participants at the Moscow forum.

The five Arctic nations must make their case for claiming the Lomonosov ridge as an extension of their continental shelf within 10 years of ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The United States is the only nation that has not yet ratified the treaty.

Canada plans to submit its bid by 2013, while Russia said it would prove spend 64 million dollars on research to strengthen its claim, rejected by the UN in 2002 for lack of evidence.

Although Russia would lay claim to the Arctic region, Putin stressed Thursday that the UN would ultimately rule the overlapping Arctic claims. "Very serious economic and geopolitical interests intersect in the Arctic, but I have no doubt that all the problems existing in the Arctic, including over the continental shelf, can be resolved," he said.

Russia's economy is already heavily developed north of the Arctic circle due to its Soviet industrial heritage. Roughly 1.5 percent of Russia's population lies above the Arctic circle, although it accounts for 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product and 22 percent of its exports, according to Alexander Bedritsky, Russia's climate advisor.

By Bedritsky's estimates, some 20-25 percent of the world's hydrocarbon resources are found in the Arctic Circle.

"I think major oil and gas production in the (Arctic) marine environment is probably 5-10 years away," so it is important to put ecological rules in place now, Bill Eichbaum, vice president of the World Wildlife Fund's marine and Arctic policy program, told AFP.