Russia will grow by nearly half a million square miles when a UN commission rules, within three years, on its claim for a vast swathe of resource-rich Arctic territory, a Russian UN official says.
“I believe that in three years, Russia will manage to provide all the necessary evidence for its claims to the Lomonosov and Mendeleyev ridges, and consequently, the commission will be able to make a final decision,” Yury Kazmin, a member of the UN Commission on the limits of the continental shelf told the official RIA-Novosti agency on Monday.
Russia’s claim is hotly disputed by other northern countries, including Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US, most of whom have territorial aspirations of their own in the Arctic.
But Russia is far ahead of its rivals in the race to make a legal grab for the territory.
Moscow has sent two scientific expeditions to the North Pole so far this year to gather data to support its claim that the two mountain ranges on the Arctic seabed are actually an extension of the Siberian continental shelf, and therefore legally Russian territory.
A third team of scientists is due to visit the region in November to complete the work.
The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention establishes a 19-km offshore territorial limit for each country, plus a 320-km “economic zone” in which it has exclusive rights.
But the law leaves open the possibility that the economic zone can be extended if it can be proved that the seafloor is actually an extension of a country’s geological territory.
A month ago Russia’s biggest-ever scientific expedition, including a giant nuclear icebreaker, a research ship and two deep-sea minisubs, planted a rust-proof titanium Russian flag on the seafloor almost 5 km beneath the North Pole.
Russian officials admit that the flag-planting was a symbolic act, but insist that Moscow’s case for the territories — estimated to contain up to 10-billion tonnes of petroleum, as well as vast troves of minerals and fish stocks — is completely serious. “Under the Convention, fixing a flag gives no legal right to the shelf,” said Kazmin. But, he added, Russia’s case before the commission will be based upon hard data gathered by Russian scientists.