Competitors begin to show their colours in Arctic

Russia's recent Arctic 2007 mission achieved man's first ever dive to the bottom of the ocean below the North Pole, but has caused disquiet among some countries which also have claims on the region.

Russians were celebrating as an international team returned to the surface of the Arctic Ocean last week. The historic expedition took rock samples from the sea bed to gather proof that part of the Arctic is an extension of Russia's maritime territory.

It was a record-breaking 4,300 metres dive, but not everyone was happy. Countries with a share in the Arctic – Norway, Denmark, Canada and the U.S. – have their reservations about the mission.

The Canadian government in particular objected to Russia planting its flag on the ocean bed, calling it illegal.

“We have established a long time ago that these are Canadian waters and this is Canadian property. You cannot go around the world these days dropping a flag somewhere, so this is not  the 14th or 15th century. You know, this is really not a question,” grumbled Canadian Foreign Minister, Peter MacKay.

But the Russian Foreign Minister disagrees, saying it is a common practice.

“I am surprised by such a reaction. Flags are usually planted when pioneers reach a point which has never been stepped upon before. This was the case with the Moon, by the way. As for the legal aspect – we were saying from the very beginning that the expedition is being carried out within the framework of the UN convention. We claim rights for the area and we know we have to prove them. The samples of the sea bed will provide the evidence,”  Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, spoke in defence.

On Thursday, the Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper set off on a tour to the North of the country to inspect the armed forces in the Arctic region and announced ambitious plans to build the country's first deep-water port.

America's  largest icebreaker, Healy, has also left for the Arctic. Its aim is to geographically map the ocean bed and install research equipment in the ocean.

Russia's expedition leader, however, says no-one can deny the findings.

“I think what we have made is a geographical discovery. We have reached the North Pole seabed. Everything else that follows relates to our policy in the Arctic region. The Russian Flag has been planted on the North Pole,” stated Artur Chilingarov, the Head of Russian Arctic 2007 expedition.