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Russia undeterred in race to North Pole

tech reviews Updated: Aug 21, 2007 04:09 IST
Fred Weir

Russia is unlikely to be deterred in its race to claim the North Pole by expressions of disapproval about its methods from other Northern countries, Russian experts say.

"Western countries are afraid they'll wake up some morning and find the Arctic is Russian, so they're trying to find some way to slow down Russia's offensive," says Sergei Strokan, a foreign policy expert with the daily Kommersant in Moscow.

"They're behind in the race, that's why they're complaining," he says.

Russia is claiming nearly half-a-million square miles of potentially resource-rich territory beneath the polar icecap on the grounds that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range beneath the Arctic Ocean, is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

Three weeks ago a Russian expedition smashed its way to the North Pole behind the giant nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya, and sent minisubs to the seabed nearly 3 miles below to plant a rustproof titanium Russian flag.

The next week the Russian airforce staged unprecedented war games in the Arctic, sending supersonic Tu-160 bombers to overfly the North Pole while other planes tested cruise missiles and practiced assault tactics nearby.

Canada, the US and Denmark have all condemned Moscow's "theatrical" methods of asserting its claim.

Jonas Gahr Store, Norway's foreign minister, told the BBC last week that all disputes should be settled through the UN convention for the law of the sea.

"We have established procedures to deal with this kind of issue so if anyone is under the belief that we solve this by racing up there with flags or demonstrations of sovereignty, they are wrong," he said.

The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention establishes a 12-mile offshore territorial limit for each country, plus a 200-mile "economic zone" in which it has exclusive rights.