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Russia Continues Quest to Claim Arctic


Russia is continuing its quest to claim the abundant resources of the Arctic, which may include vast undersea deposits of oil and gas. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports that Kremlin leader Dmitri Medvedev is seeking to redefine the borders of Russia to secure the polar region as a 21st century resource base.

President Dmitri Medvedev told a Kremlin meeting of the National Security Council the task of securing Arctic resources is top Russian priority. Realizing it, he said, will require a number of special measures, including a sound legal basis to regulate Russian activities in the Arctic.

Mr. Medvedev says Russia must first finalize and adopt a federal law on the southern border of Russia's Arctic zone, and soon after draw up terms to define the external limits of the continental shelf. He underscores the strategic importance of this task.

The Arctic's potential mineral wealth has made it the subject of an international dispute. According to international law, nations may claim control of areas within 320 kilometers of their continental shelves.

Moscow maintains that a large undersea geological formation known as the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of continental Russia. But National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev acknowledges that other nations do not recognize the Russian claim.

Patrushev says Russia must defend its interests, but understands that Arctic countries, above all, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States will defend their interests just as Russia does.

Denmark has been cooperating with Canada to argue the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of North America.

Last year, a nuclear-powered ice breaker escorted a Russian research ship to the North Pole, and one of its mini-submarines planted the country's flag on the sea floor below.

President Medvedev told the Security Council that the Arctic could contain about one-fourth of the world's shelf-based hydrocarbon resources. He also noted that about 20 percent of Russia's gross domestic product and 22 percent of its exports are produced in its Arctic areas, where much of the country's rare and precious metals are extracted.

At the same time, the Kremlin leader said the poorly developed air and sea transport infrastructure in Russia's far northern regions are obstacles to realization of what he called the Arctic's rich investment potential.

Mr. Medvedev cautioned that the problems of Russia's Far North cannot be addressed by the federal budget alone and will require cooperation with business and local authorities. He also called attention to a critical need for development of modern communications and technologies to give Russia's northern residents opportunities for education, career advancement, recreation, and health care.