Arctic time bomb set for 2020?

The flagship of Russia's polar fleet, “Akademik Fyodorov”, is due to return to St. Petersburg at the end of a 40-day expedition to the Arctic. It's the same vessel that a year ago rekindled Russia's presence in the region with its ground-break

According to Jane's International Defence Review (IDR) magazine, by 2020 fossil fuels could heat up conflicts over the ice-cold plains of the North Pole.

As the ice caps melt and the vast recourses located at the top the world become more accessible, the stakes could be raised.

“Well, the worst case scenario will be some kind of conflict in the Arctic, in particular driven by the high price of oil and gas,” said Christian Le Miere, IDR’s Managing Editor. “If countries find themselves in need of these resources they may be forced or compelled to act in a military fashion.”

It's believed that about quarter of the world's oil and gas reserves are in the Arctic seabed. Currently thick ice caps and the harsh environment make these resources expensive to retrieve. But five major states are already racing for their piece of cake: Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US.

“For many years, the Arctic was used on sectorial basis. The only legal way to change that is through a UN commission. And that's exactly what Russian scientists have been trying to do for the past few years,” said Arkady Tishkov, Deputy Director of the Russian Institute of Geography.

Russia went on to be the only state so far to back up its claims for the Arctic legally and scientifically. In August 2007 Artur Chelengarov and his team took a historic dive into the Arctic waters. They were the first ever to descend to the seabed at the top of the world, where they planted a Russian titanium flag and took some samples of the soil to prove that it is a continuation of the Siberian continental shelf, verifying it as Russian territory. But it still might take some efforts to push it through the UN.

“Despite the fact that Russia has filed all the papers to the UN commission, we are not likely to see any decision in the near future,” said maritime law expert Vasiliy Gutsulyak. “That's because the interests of many states collide over the Arctic.”

So whether Russia's claim will be able to cut any ice with the UN is anybody's guess. But one thing is for certain – other contenders will not give up this treasure without a fight.

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