Russians head home after N Pole success

The biggest ever Russian expedition, `Arctic-2007`, is heading home from the North Pole after successfully exploring the Arctic seabed. During their research the scientists planted a symbolic Russian flag on the ocean floor.

The expedition hopes to prove that the area – potentially rich in oil and gas – is part of Russia's territory.

1.2 MLN square KM – an area twice the size of France – lies between Russia and the North Pole. If it comes under Russian control, it won't be just a matter of prestige, since underneath the ice there are probably extensive reserves of gas and oil.

In addition, the waterways around the Pole could become shipping routes as a result of global warming.

Artur Chilingarov went out of the submersible first, followed by the constructor and Mir pilot Anatoly Sagalevich.

“We were the first to reach the bottom of the North Pole. I don't think anybody will be able to reach it in the near future. But if they do, what they will find is our Russian flag. I thank you all for the great support,” said Anatoly Sagalevich.

The most difficult part of the dive was to find a suitable ice-hole whilst the submarines are coming up. 

That is why, during the dive, one of the two vessels taking part in the expedition – the nuclear-powered “Rossiya” – had to go round in circles preventing the ice from freezing at least for eight hours, which is the scheduled time for the dive.

Part of the expedition members aboard the vessel ‘Academic Fyodorov’ will continue its scientific part, but the leaders including Artur Chilingarov and Anatoly Sagalevich are returning home. They are expected to arrive to Moscow on August, 7. 

As we know, according to the international convention which has been signed by most countries except for the U.S., every country has a right for the sea territory of 200 miles off its coast. That's our economic zone where we can recover oil and gas without a problem. But sometimes the structures can go further than that, like, in this case, the Mendeleev crest. It stretches from the Laptev Sea through the North Pole to Greenland. So it really can be an extension of the Siberian platform.

Leopold Lobkovsky from the Institute of Oceanology at the Russian Academy of Sciences

The planting of the Russian flag on the North Pole seabed has provoked strong reactions from Canada and the U.S.

The U.S. is sending an icebreaker to the Arctic Ocean as part of a scientific expedition unrelated to exploration of natural resources in the sea. Washington says placing the flag doesn't have any legal standing, but admits the process complies with a United Nations convention.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, Peter MacKay, says the expedition was just a show by Russia and isn't seen as a threat to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

“You know, this isn't the fifteenth century. You can't go round the world and just plant flags and say 'we are claiming this territory,” Mr MacKay believes. 

Evgeny Zagainov from the Legal Department of Russia's Foreign Ministry, however, claims, “The point of the expedition was not to claim Russian rights on this or that place. The symbolic planting of the flag should not confuse anyone. It's a common practice to leave your flag on mountain tops or space objects.”

Under the Law of the Sea, any country controls the waters within 200 miles off its coast. If Russia proves that its continental shelf is connected to the Arctic, it may be given rights to more territory by the UN Commission. Russia has already applied for these rights once, back in 2001, but its claims were rejected.  The expedition might help Russia's next application in 2009.

“In my view, new evidence will be made public in the near future. But either way, this is not a question that will be resolved quickly. In the end, Russia will have to negotiate with all the five Arctic states, each of which has its rights and claims.  There is no other way,” Vasily Gutsulyak, the Director of the Centre for Maritime Law, commented.