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In 2012 Russia is going to place its bid for extension of its continental Arctic shelf to the UN in order to add 1.2 kilometers (presumably rich with fossil hydrocarbons) more to the 200 miles long exclusive economic zone. Two underwater ridges (the Mendeleev ridge and the Lomonosov ridge) substantiate this claim. It, however, may cause Canada and Denmark putting forth similar territorial claims.

In 2007 Artur Chilingarov, Russian polar explorer, took part in the "Arctic 2007" North Pole expedition. He’s well-known in Russia and State Duma member from Nenets Autonomous Okrug (on behalf of United Russia). Besides, he is a special presidential envoy for the international cooperation in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The aforementioned expedition has clearly reaffirmed Russian territorial claims in the region. Having reached the North Pole aboard a nuclear-powered ice-breaker, Artur Chilingarov accompanied by five more Russia explorers have descended on 2 Mir submersibles to the seabed 4.200 meters (13.980 feet) below and planted the titanium capsule with a Russian flag inside. Right after completion of operation Artur Chilingarov said: "The Arctic is a Russian territory. We’re glad to plant the Russian flag at the ocean bed, where no man has set his foot before. I don’t care what people will say abroad. If they have some problems, they’re free to descend to the ocean bed themselves an leave whichever they like there". British media compared the bravery and technical complexity of the operation to the first Moon steps in 1969.

Russian expedition, though, was merely a demonstration of technical achievements — it has shown the rest of the world that Russian authorities pay duly intent attention to this region and it triggered sophisticated negotiations between the Arctic states. Despite the fact that merely 1.5% of Russian population live in the Arctic, GDP of the region makes up 11%, while its export share volume — 22% of the aggregate state indices. Besides, the country is going to invest over $310 billion into the continental shelf development projects by 2039.

Despite the fact that Russians proclaimed their intention to make the Arctic a territory of dialogue, excluding the possibility of conflicts there in advance, influential Prime Minister Putin has recently reminded that "Russian security and geopolitical interests are bound to the Arctic". According to certain experts, future significance of the Far North may go as high up, as causing the change of the entire geopolitical doctrine of the country, which may turn into an Arctic power from the Eurasian one. Due to the global warming, the state are interested, firstly, in creation of the new naval routes coming through the North and, secondly, in development and production of the natural resources and oil from the ocean bed.

What’s the legal status of the Arctic?

The Arctic then is defined as a zone around the North Pole: Greenland (Danish autonomous unit), part of the Arctic territories of Canada, Russia, the USA (Alaska), Norway and the entire Arctic Ocean. The region makes up 8% of the global surface, yet its population is tiny. I’d like to point out that 75% of the Arctic population is Russia. After the Cold War Arctic States (Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the USA) established three organizations for regional cooperation:
1) Council of the Baltic Sea States (established in 1992) unites the countries, adjoining the Baltic Sea and promoting the cooperation of the Arctic states.
2) Barents/Euro-Arctic Council (established in 1993) is to promote the communication between people, dwelling by the Barents Sea and the economic development of the region. Foreign Ministers of six European Commission member-states make up the Barents/Euro-Arctic Council with France as an observer.
3) Arctic Council (established in 1996) includes eight Arctic states, representatives of the native Arctic nations and aplenty of observers like Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands and Poland.

In 1982 UN Law of the Sea 1982 UN Convention on the Maritime Law was signed in Jamaican city Montego Bay, which came into legal force in 1994. Certain countries that had unsettled troubles with the neighboring archipelagos (Turkey and Venezuela) haven’t signed it, albeit all the Arctic countries have signed and ratified it (apart from the USA, which has signed it without ratification). This conventions specifies the status of various sea zones, defines the term "territorial waters" and "territorial seas" (12 sea miles, i. e. 22 kilometers from the shore), exclusive economic zones 200 sea miles long (360 kilometers), free transit straits and finally the meaning of the continental shelf. Given the certain conditions, state may extend their sovereign rights for prospecting and development of these shelves. According to the said Convention, ocean bed is proclaimed the "universal property of humanity".

There’s a commission that has to consider bids of coastal states for the rights over continental shelves longer than 200 sea miles. Commission is only authorized to warn the bidders, but cannot pass any verdicts on the debatable questions. Commission instituted the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for that sake. Russia, Canada and Denmark have already passed the material to the Commission. Thus, they’re going to substantiate that certain Arctic regions are to be included into their exclusive economic zones.

This may cause quite a number of underwater sovereignty litigations. At the conference in Greenland town Ilulissat in 2008 Arctic powers have adopted a joint declaration on the property rights. According to it, Arctic states are free to lay their claims for the parts of continental shelf, lying outside of their exclusive economic zone (200 sea miles from the shore) if they manage to prove that this shelf is the continuation of their territory. In 2012 Russia is going to place its bid for extension of its continental Arctic shelf to the UN in order to add 1.2 kilometers (presumably rich with fossil hydrocarbons) more to the 200 miles long exclusive economic zone. Two underwater ridges (the Mendeleev ridge and the Lomonosov ridge) substantiate this claim. It, however, may cause Canada and Denmark putting forth similar territorial claims.

By Alexandre Latsa

Translated from French. Brief version of the article was published at "French National Defense Review" magazine.




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