Polarizing proposal: Bye-bye 'Arctic' Ocean, welcome 'Russian'

It is time to recognize Russia’s overwhelming presence in the Arctic and rename the Arctic Ocean the ‘Russian Ocean’. That is the opinion expressed by the head of the Institute of Expert Assessments, a Moscow-based conservative think tank.

­The idea is apparently aimed at promoting Russia's cultural and social development – at least that is what the institute stands for according to its website.

“It's traditional to name seas and oceans after the countries that have the most influence over them,” the head of the think tank, Nikolay Pavlyuk, explained on the website. Russia’s territorial waters are the largest in the Arctic, the shelf is rich in mineral resources, the fleet is vast and its contribution to the region’s research is widely renowned, he added.

Indeed, the names of seas and oceans have many times changed throughout history. The Sea of Japan or the Indian Ocean – these names sound natural and would hardly evoke any controversial associations. But the Russian Ocean…

Moscow has long insisted it has the grounds to extend its territory beyond its exclusive economic zone. In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it currently extends 200 nautical miles (320 kilometers) from a country's coastline.

“A significant part of the ocean bed is a sort of natural continuation of the bedrock which starts in Russia,” Pavlyuk continued, referring to the latest research of the Mendeleev and Lomonosov Ridges by Russian scientists, which argues that those formations are extensions of the Eurasian continent.

In 2002, the UN Commission neither rejected nor accepted Russia’s initial proposal of 2001 to establish new outer limits for the country’s continental shelf beyond the 200-mile zone. Back then, the UN body recommended additional research, and finally, in June 2007, Russian scientists claimed that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Russian shelf.

The following month, Artur Chilingarov, a renowned explorer, planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole during a highly publicized expedition which involved an icebreaker and two submersibles. The move infuriated some Arctic nations. Canada’s foreign minister at that time, Peter MacKay, rebuked Moscow rather nervously. “You can't go around the world these days dropping a flag somewhere, this isn't the 14th or 15th century,” he said back then.

Given all this uncertainty over the legal status of many parts of the ocean, as well as the numerous lucrative factors at stake, one can only guess what stands behind the new proposal.

“We are going to submit this proposal to the country’s leaders,” promised Pavlyuk.

Well, let us see what John Baird, Canada's current foreign minister, says this time.