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Russia, Canada trade rival Arctic claims

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Sept 16, 2010
Canada and Russia on Thursday traded rival claims over the Arctic as their countries eyed energy riches and shipping routes made increasingly accessible by melting Polar ice.

Visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said the aim of his mission to Moscow was to explain his country's new Arctic policy, which includes a greater military presence in the region.

"We will exercise our sovereignty in the Arctic," he told a news conference following talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"We are doing so in two ways: First, via a robust presence of Canadian forces but also via the (scientific) equipment that may eventually prove our claim."

But he added: "We do not have the intention to militarise the Arctic."

The two Arctic nations claim the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic, as an extension of their continental shelf.

Both said Thursday that they expect the United Nations to rule on their competing claims.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are at odds over how to divide up the Arctic seabed, thought to hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 30 percent of the world's untapped gas resources, according to the US Geological Survey.

The five Arctic nations are locked in a tight race to gather evidence to support their claims amid recent reports by US researchers warning global warming could leave the region ice free by 2030.

Canada has until 2013 to submit proof of the validity of its claim to the United Nations, while Lavrov said Russia was gathering additional evidence to bolster a claim submitted in 2001.

"We will submit our data on the Lomonosov Ridge and we are confident that our case will prevail, backed by scientific evidence," Cannon said.

"Both Russia and Canada respect the United Nations and the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas."

Lavrov meanwhile was quick to warn that while Moscow would defer to the UN, another international organisation -- the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) -- had no right to mediate disputing Arctic claims.

"I don't think that NATO will act correctly if it takes on the role of deciding who and how to resolve problems in the Arctic," he said. "The (UN) commission will have to decide who is right and who is wrong."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the security alliance should be used as a forum to address Arctic challenges and warned the melting of Polar ice risked inflaming regional tensions.

Russia's opposition to the eastward expansion of NATO, a security group established after World War II as a balance against the Communist Warsaw Pact countries, slowed its efforts to resolve a 40-year row over its Arctic border with Norway.

Lavrov said the signing this week of an accord with Norway delineating the two nations' borders in a maritime area straddling their economic zones in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean was proof the countries could do without NATO on the issue.

Russia had alarmed its Arctic neighbours when it planted a flag on the ocean floor under the North Pole in 2007 in a symbolic staking of its claim over the region.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that any coastal state can claim undersea territory 200 nautical miles from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone.

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