Saturday, July 28, 2007

Polar Land-Grab Gets PrimeTime Coverage In Russia

By Cernig

Russia plans to plant a flag 14,000 feet below the North Pole tomorrow as part of a campaign to annex a resource-rich section of Arctic seabed the size of Western Europe.
The polar expedition aims to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater shelf that runs through the Arctic, is an extension of Russian territory.

The Kremlin has poured £40 million into the voyage, which is receiving blanket coverage on state television, to try to secure billions of tonnes of untapped oil and gas reserves under the ocean. Two members of the Duma, the Russian parliament, will plant the one-metre flag, made of titanium, during what will be the first manned journey to the seabed of the North Pole.

“This will be a truly historic dive,” Anatoli Sagalevich, chief of the Oceanology Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Itar-Tass. “The human eye has never seen the North Pole from a depth of 4,300 metres.”

Before the expedition left the northern port of Murmansk, Artur Chilingarov, 68, the expedition leader, said: “The Arctic is ours and we should demonstrate our presence.”

Mr Chilingarov is a deputy speaker in the Duma and president of the Association of Polar Explorers of the Russian Federation. His fellow submariner, Vladimir Gruzdev, said that the expedition would “remind the whole world that Russia is a great polar and scientific power”.

More than 100 scientists are on board the Akademik Fyodorov, Russia’s flagship research vessel, for what is the largest expedition yet organised to the Pole. A nuclear-powered ice-breaker, the Rossiya, is accompanying the ship.

Two deep-water submersibles will make three dives to the sea bed to try to confirm research by a Russian expedition in May suggesting that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

No country has jurisdiction over the Arctic, which is governed by the International Seabed Authority, but Russia has long sought to extend its territorial boundary. It lodged a demand for 1.2 million sq km (463,000 sq miles) of ocean in 2001 with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which asked for more scientific data to support Russia’s case.

The expeditions are collecting data to back a fresh submission in 2009, the centenary of the first journey to the North Pole. At stake are vast reserves of oil and gas that are considered increasingly viable economically as climate change makes the Arctic less hostile to exploitation. Russian geologists argue that the area contains 10 billion tonnes of oil and gas, though some estimates put the total closer to 100 billion tonnes.

Russia’s claim to the North Pole is opposed by the four other Arctic countries — Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark, through its sovereignty over Greenland. Under international law, each nation is entitled to control an economic zone within 200 miles of its continental shelf, but the limits of the shelf are disputed.
Climate change is increasingly relevant to any national security debate and is yet another situation where Bush and the Republicans have weakened that national security by sticking their heads in the sand. I've written about this one before, saying that Putin (like the Canadians) is playing chess for a world with a changed climate while Bush is still playing denialist tiddlywinks - but I failed to realize just how populist and nationalist the issue has become in Russia. Maybe there's a message there for Democratic strategists?

Update Just to underscore the message that Bush and the current crop of US foreign policy experts have dropped the ball in a big way on the security implications of global warming:
the battle for the Arctic is fast becoming a global issue. Melting ice has meant the opening up of the North West Passage to commercial shipping is now possible in the summer months and, given rising temperatures, a possibility all year round in the future. The opening up of the passage can shorten the distance ships have to travel between Europe and Asia by up to 2,000 nautical miles over the established trade route through the Panama Canal.

Given the area's geopolitical importance, it is no surprise Britain is closely monitoring the situation as part of its commitment to Nato. 'Britain has been sending Trafalgar SSN-class submarines to the Arctic since 1986 because it wants to retain its under-ice capability,' said Huebert, who predicted it would not be long before their sonar registers the presence of an old foe. 'The Russians are rebuilding their navy,' Huebert said. 'They've just launched a submarine for the first time since 1987 and they've placed orders for three more.'

...During its journey last week a mysterious aircraft appeared above the Akademik Fyodorov, causing a ripple of excitement among the journalists on board. Russian media widely reported the aircraft to be a Nato spy plane. It may have been paranoia but in the frozen waters around the North Pole one thing is certain: the days of the Cold War are back.
Let's hear from some of the Dem candidates on this issue.

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