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16 Sep, 2010 09:15

Russia and Canada bicker over Arctic seabed

The future of the Arctic was debated in Moscow, where the foreign ministers of Russia and Canada have just held talks following Ottawa's announcement it will challenge Moscow's claim to parts of the Arctic seabed.

Both countries remain firm in their positions, claiming that part of the Arctic seabed known as the Lomonosov Ridge belongs to each one of them.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon says Ottawa has challenged Moscow for the hydrocarbon-rich parts of the Arctic seabed. According to Cannon, the underwater territory Russia claims as its own actually belongs to Canada.

Moscow, on the other hand, claims that the area in question – the Lomonosov Ridge, which reaches out into the floor of the Arctic Ocean – is part of Russia’s continental shelf.

“The Lomonosov Ridge was discovered by Russian explorers, but today we want to prove scientifically that it is a continuation of our main land. We are providing our data to the UN, as is Canada. And now Denmark is also thinking about laying claim to the Lomonosov Ridge. But any such claim must be based on a scientific data provided to the UN commission – and they have the last word in any case,” Sergey Lavrov stated.

In turn, Canada says that the Lomonosov Ridge belongs to its territory. The country’s foreign minister said that establishing itself in the Arctic is one of the key foreign policies of Canada.

Lawrence Cannon expressed confidence that “We will submit our data on the Lomonosov Ridge and we are confident that our case will prevail, backed by scientific evidence.”

In 2007, an expedition of Russian scientists dived several thousand meters on to the floor of the ridge and planted a Russian flag there, but the United Nations did not deem this valid proof of the country’s territorial boundaries.

Canada, which sees increasing its influence in the Artic as a major goal, is also doubtful of the claim.

“Let me make it quite clear: Canada will be quite active in defending its territory. We quite clearly have, as a government, determined that it is important to exercise our sovereignty through our defense mechanisms, through our military presence, but as well through international law. And we have agreed with our international partners that, as we extend the continental shelf, it will be science-based,” Cannon told a press conference in Moscow.

At the moment the huge Arctic territory is considered to belong to neither of the countries. As oil prices are growing, the strategic importance of the region, believed to hold 20% of the global oil and gas reserves, is growing too.

Many countries are planning to send their bid for a piece of the Arctic to the United Nations in the next few years. Besides Russia and Canada, among them are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the United States, Denmark, and the list is bound to grow.

Edward Struzik, a Canadian Arctic researcher, says that so far the territorial disputes are peaceful, but the situation is very dynamic.

“When you have that much money at stake, those kinds of resources at stake, and something happens with the world economy – economies can collapse, they can get into trouble, you can get different world leaders with different approaches to these issues – then anything can happen,” he told RT.

An optimistic example is the recent meeting in Moscow, where Norway and Russia were finally able to resolve their 40-year territorial dispute in the Barents Sea.