Russia files claim for vast swath of Arctic
Russia made a new bid Tuesday for a huge swath of Arctic territory — including the North Pole — putting Canada in the position of potentially having to negotiate with the country to settle overlapping claims.
Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas. Rivalry for Arctic resources has intensified as shrinking polar ice is opening new opportunities for exploration.
On Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had submitted a revised bid to the United Nations for 1.2 million square kilometres of Arctic sea shelf.
Russia was the first to submit its claim in 2002, but the UN sent it back for lack of evidence.
The Russian ministry said the resubmitted bid contains new arguments. “Ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research are used to back the Russian claim,” it said.
Rob Huebert, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper — who has made Arctic sovereignty and development key priorities during his nine-year tenure — should make it clear whether Canada is open to negotiating with Russia where claims will potentially intersect.
The government has taken a tough line on Russia’s annexation of Crimea. A willingness to negotiate over Arctic territory could signal Canada is ready to re-engage diplomatically with Russia and signal de facto acceptance of the situation in Ukraine.
“It is in Canada’s interest to have a safe and stable Arctic,” Huebert said. “Entering into negotiations could leave the impression that it is back to business as usual.”
But Michael Byers, an Arctic expert and international law professor at UBC, said it might be premature for Harper to make any pronouncements at this point.
“There’s a bit of temptation to thump chests over Arctic sovereignty. I would counsel the prime minister to simply let the process unfold in the normal way that the Russians seem to want it to,” he said.
Byers said Russia showed surprising restraint in its new Arctic claim compared with Denmark’s provocative bid last year, and diplomats should be relieved that Russia has chosen to follow international rules in its submission and not create tension in the area.
Canada had planned to file a submission in late 2013, but Harper intervened at the last minute and asked that the geographic scope of the claim be expanded to include the North Pole. More survey work is taking place this summer before Ottawa submits the document.
While laying claim to the North Pole would certainly bolster national pride, it sits in the middle of a large and hostile ocean, is in darkness for three months of the year, and really is the “last place anyone will drill for oil,” Byers said.
It will likely take 10 to 20 years before the UN has vetted the submissions, Byers said.