Ottawa Citizen

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada