November 01, 2015

Arctic Rush

Russia is pressing ahead to assert its authority over the Arctic, including the North Pole. After conducting extensive research over the last ten years, the government has submitted a comprehensive claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for a vast area of the Arctic. Russia argues that 1.2 million square kilometers of the Arctic shelf (over 460,000 square miles) beyond its legal borders, including the North Pole, are a continuation of the Eurasian continent, giving Russia exclusive use of the territory. The claim is likely to be reviewed at the UN in February.

Although low oil prices and limited access to technology as a result of Western sanctions hinder Moscow’s ability to prospect for the estimated 4.9 bn tons of oil and gas reserves in the cold (and dark) Arctic, Russia seems to be taking a long-term view. It is also well ahead of most other Arctic countries with its UN paperwork. Denmark and Canada have also prepared UN claims, some of which overlap with Russia’s.

In parallel with Russia’s claims, the country’s military is enhancing its ability to operate in the region. A special арктическая бригада (Arctic brigade), part of the Northern Fleet and based in the Murmansk province village of Alakurtti, has been created. The brigade, formed after a decree by President Vladimir Putin on New Year’s Eve 2014, is currently being equipped. It includes airborne troops that have already participated in exercises on far-flung northern islands, which had been mostly deserted after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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