Russia is looking to expand 463,000 square miles into the Arctic, filing a petition in this sense with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLOS).
It is certainly not news that the economic and military expansion aspirations of the Russian Federation are constantly pushing the limits of international law. This time is no different.
Under the provisions of the 1983 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation may require to establish an exclusive economic zone in the Arctic, extending 200 nautical miles from the state’s internationally recognized borders.
Under the same provisions, the U.S., Canada, Finland and Denmark also filed requests in this sense. Russia however filed its petition under a different section of the Convention, which allows a state 350 nautical miles extension, provided the continental shelf reaches beyond the state’s borders.
It is not the first time the Russian Federation is claiming its right to the Arctic exclusive economic zone. In 2002 a similar formal request was rejected by UNCLOS for insufficient proof. Now, after a scientific expedition was sent in the area, the Russian Federation filed a full request. Pending the assessment of the scientific data provided, UNCLOS is bound to give an answer to Russia.
Setting aside the obvious benefits that lay with the Arctic gas and oil deposits Russia is targeting, it is interesting to review other stakes at hand in gaining control over 463,000 square miles of the Antarctic, including the North Pole.
These span internal and foreign policy, as some scholars have argued. One take comes from associate professor with the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, Robert Huebert:
“As Putin tries to reestablish Russia as a great power, as we see the increase of military activity elsewhere, the Arctic also provides the best springboard by which the Russians can once again emerge as a dominant geopolitical military player in the entire international system”.
Michael Byers, an authority on the Arctic, international law and author of “Who owns the Arctic” also supports the thesis:
“The Barents Sea in the western Arctic is ice-free throughout the year and therefore a very important place, not to access the Arctic Ocean but to access the Atlantic and to project power around the world”.
The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as President Vladimir Putin expressed hopes that UNCLOS will deliver an answer by autumn. However, one UN spokesperson stated that as UNCLOS’s next meeting is scheduled only in 2016, there is no way that Russia’s request could be met so soon.
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