Russia surprised the world yesterday, by announcing that it has territorial rights to a significant chunk of Arctic seabed, and is seeking UN approval to develop it for oil, gas, and mining potential.
The claim centres on the 1,220-mile long underwater Lomonosov Ridge, which joins Siberia to Canada. According to Russian media, the physical connection to the Russian intercontinental shelf means that the ridge is technically a part of Russia, and therefore open to exploitation.
Shocked Canadians however countered that such a claim could only have validity if Canada, which is also connected to the ridge, were also able to claim ownership of the ridge – along with most of Eurasia.
At present there is an international agreement to limit economic activity in the Artic to a 200 mile zone that follows national coastlines. The rest of the Arctic is under governance of the International Seabed Authority.
However, Russia is believed to be expected to file a revised claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in order to have its claim processed – though objections are likely to see this rejected.
Russia made a previous attempt to extend its jurisdiction over the Arctic 5 years ago, but the more recent move is regarded as a more serious attempt by Russia.
Observers have made a point that a key strategy of Moscows foreign policy is leverage of its energy reserves over European and Asian nation policy. Nationalisation of Russian energy companies has seen the government of President Putin able to assert itself on the worlds energy and political stages.
However, it remains to be seen whether the current grab for Arctic land is simply part of a wider political game, or else a serious threat that Russia will seek to follow with or without UN approval.
If Russia were to simply go ahead and develop parts of the Lomonosov Ridge for exploration, the likelihood is that the world would be unable to enact measures to prevent the country from doing so.
The suggestion is proving worrisome for environmental groups, not least because while the Arctic remains one of the few unspoiled wildernesses on earth, it is estimated to hold huge reserves of oil, gas, diamonds, and a wide range of potentially lucrative mineral deposits.
It therefore remains to be seen how aggressive Russia aims to expand its energy resources for political ends.