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Russia would like to see border of its Arctic shelf expanded

August 05, 2015, 19:30 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, August 5. /TASS/. Achieving the expansion of continental shelf borders in the Arctic would be of great economic and political importance to Russia, experts believe. None of them dares forecast at this point if Russia’s second request will be satisfied this time, given the no easy international environment, but the hope remains the science-based approach will eventually prevail.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf a revised bid for expanding the area of the country’s continental shelf in the Arctic by 1.2 million square kilometers. In 2001, one of the main arguments in favor of such a decision was the eastern part of the underwater Lomonosov Ridge stretching across the Arctic basin, and also the Mendeleyev Ridge, were extensions of the Eurasian mainland. In 2002, the UN Commission asked Russia for presenting extra research-based evidence to back up its request. Of late, Russia conducted a great deal of research in the Arctic. The results have been included in the revised bid, due to be considered in February-March 2016.

The Arctic for the past 20 years has been regarded as a scene of rivalry among countries affiliated with the Arctic Council (alongside Russia there are also Denmark, Canada, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and the United States). The reason behind their interest in the Arctic seas is their bed, according to some geologists, may contain about 30% of the yet-to-be-explored reserves of natural gas and 15% of unexplored oil.

The director of the Oil and Gas Geology and Geophysics Institute at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Aleksei Kontorovich, believes that the reserves of hydrocarbons in the Arctic may prove as large as those in the Middle East. Before, they were almost inaccessible, but with the melting of the polar ice cap ever larger areas have been opening for exploration and production. The overall reserves are estimated at 286 billion tons, including 10 billion tons presumably found in the area Russia is contesting, Kommersant quotes Kantorovich as saying.

"The UN Commission’s specialists are focused mostly on the results of research, but in the current global context the solution of the issue may be politicized, too, the more so since practically all littoral countries wish to see the borders of their Arctic shelf expanded," the science doyen of the Natural Resources Management Economics Institute, Aleksandr Bagin, has told TASS.

The Arctic is believed to contain huge unexplored hydrocarbon resources, but these are not the sole benefits of controlling the continental shelf. "Without obtaining consent from the country that controls the continental shelf no other state will be able to extract mineral resources, use biological resources or lay subsea communication lines. In other words, the sea shelf spells access to biological resources and the opportunity for using the territory to lay pipelines on the seabed."

Bagin agrees that all this still looks like a remote possibility, because no great amounts of hydrocarbons are extracted on the Arctic shelf at the moment.

"But this is important economically and politically. The Arctic is becoming a lucrative asset attracting not only Arctic states. China, India, South Korea and Japan have their own Arctic programs, too," Bagin said.

The expert recalled that the Arctic was officially recognized in Russia as one of the government policy’s priorities.

"If common sense gains the upper hand and truly independent conclusions by experts are made, Russia will have these territories," the executive director at the Russian North Social Development Centre, senior lecturer at the presidential academy RANEPA, Vera Smorchkova, has told TASS. She agreed, though, "that in the modern conditions one can expect any outcome."

Russia is number one country as to the scale of economic activity in the Arctic.

"While all Arctic countries have a combined population of about four million, two million of them are Russian citizens. Of the 12 Arctic cities eleven are Russian," Smorchkova said.

If the borders of Russia’s sea shelf in the Arctic are expanded, the newly-acquired territories will be used exclusively for economic purposes, military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva (Arsenal of the Fatherland) magazine has said.

"No defence aspect is on the agenda. We create the corresponding systems only in our own territorial waters, while we abide by the international rules in the international waters," he said.

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