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Russia Seeks to Claim Arctic Mineral Wealth

A Russian naval expedition is sailing toward the North Pole to explore the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in an effort to stake Moscow's claim to territory that may contain significant undersea deposits of oil and natural gas. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from the Russian capital.

The Academic Fyodorov resumed its voyage toward the North Pole on Thursday, after an engine failure left the research ship stranded for one day in the Barents Sea. The vessel set sail Tuesday from the northern Russian port of Murmansk. A nuclear-powered icebreaker is clearing the way for the Academic Fyodorov.

The ship's mission is to prove that large areas of the Arctic belong to Russia. Moscow contends that a large undersea geological formation in the area, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of continental Russia. According to international law, nations may claim control of areas within 320 kilometers of their continental shelves.

The Arctic until now has been considered international territory. Nations with land bordering the Arctic Ocean, including the United States, reject Moscow's contention that the area could belong to Russia. Denmark, which controls Greenland, is cooperating with Canada in arguing that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of North America, not Russia.

Russian television journalists and two members of the Russian parliament are on board the Arctic-bound ship. In remarks televised from the expedition, lawmaker Artur Chilingarov questioned competing claims.

The lawmaker says Russia should prove that the ridge is Russian, that there is a northern border to the Russian shelf. He adds that the issue should be resolved not by words or diplomats, but rather by scientists working with deep-sea submersibles, which Russia has.

Russian scientists plan to explore the undersea terrain in two mini-submarines.

At stake is ownership of vast deposits of oil and natural gas. The area in question is larger than the combined territories of several European nations.

Global warming is melting vast portions of the Arctic Ocean, which would make it easier to drill for oil and gas there.