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15 Oct, 2009 08:50

Future of the Arctic in focus at Barents Sea nations forum

There is no need for a military presence in the oil and gas-rich Arctic region, said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Barents Euro-Arctic session in the northern Russian city of Murmansk.

He added that attempts to provoke tension in the region are careless and counterproductive.

“Any problem of the Arctic could be solved by peaceful dialogue and cooperation,” he said in a speech at the opening of the forum on Thursday.

Countries with a deep interest in the resources of the Arctic region that have gathered in the Russian city of Murmansk are known as the “Barents Sea nations”. This body brings together all Nordic states, Russia and the European Commission.

The stakes are high, as the area is believed to be one of the world's biggest untapped energy reserves, and Norway, Denmark, Finland, Russia, the US and Canada all want a slice.

According to the Russian FM, “new potential capabilities and questions interconnected with the Arctic, like climate change and new technologies development, is a factor that must unite, not separate the Arctic states.”

“We are holding talks with Norway and we were able to reach an agreement on one of the disputed areas, and it has already come into effect,” Sergey Lavrov said.

If 100,000 years from now someone descends to the Arctic seabed, they will see a Russian flag there. This was the proud statement from the leader of an expedition which planted the flag beneath the icy waters. The mission dived down two years ago to prove that the so-called Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of Russian territory.

But it never received any official confirmation from the UN.

But tension over the ice is already in the air. Russia has announced it is considering sending special Arctic troops to protect the region's vast natural reserves, while Norway has promised to build military bases in the far north.

Other Arctic countries have also laid claim to the ridge. Denmark, for example, says it is part of Greenland.

Experts say developing the reserves may never pay off, bearing in mind current prices for oil and gas. Also, the deposits lie hundreds of kilometers from any of the countries and as yet, none have the experience or the technology to extract them.

“The Norway shelf has already been exploited for over 40 years and over half of the supplies have been extracted. The so-called ‘Grey Zone’ is an area of conflicting interests, as it is very fruitful,” said Anatoly Zolotukhin, Vice President of the World Petroleum Council.

So, one of the coldest places on earth that holds an untapped quarter of the world's energy reserves is proving a hot spot for the countries that want to get their hands on them.