Russia Expected to Submit Arctic Claims to United Nations Within Months

by Malte Humpert Russia hopes to complete undersea mapping of the Arctic Ocean by the end of August and submit its claims to the UN within months. In July the Russian ship Akademik Fyodorov, accompanied by the nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya, set off from Murmansk to continue sonar mapping in an effort to secure evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf. 

A successful claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea would allow Russia to expand its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by up to one million square kilometers (about 380.000 sq miles) into an area that is expected to hold up to a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) as well as a future Transpolar Route would also intersect with this section of the Arctic Ocean.

Russia first submitted its Arctic claims in 2001. Due to a lack of evidence, however, the UN recommended additional research. Russia has since expanded its mapping operations to gather the required sonar and bathymetric data. The country's northern border stretches along more than 17,000 kilometers of Arctic Ocean.

The global scramble for Arctic resources and territory garnered international media attention in 2007 when Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov planted his country's flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean below the North Pole. 

Russia seems determined to expand its onshore gas and oil operations into the Arctic Ocean itself and exploration could start as early as this winter. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also recently announced the construction of a new, year-round port on the Yamal Peninsula. The $33 billion project is expected to commence in 2013. To further bolster Russia's claims in the region it created two Arctic army brigades, stationed exclusively above the Arctic Circle. 

In addition to the Arctic coastal states, Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, more than 20 additional non-Arctic countries have expressed their interest to play a greater role in the future governance and sharing of the region's resources. Among others, China, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, are all vying to become permanent observers in the Arctic Council.

Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute of Strategic Assessments in Moscow, stresses that time to make an orderly division of territories and resources is running out as Arctic melting accelerates and more and more states get involved.