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Russian Pole Land Claim "Like Hoisting a Flag on the Moon"

RIA Novosti | August 1, 2007

MOSCOW, August 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's expedition aimed at symbolically claiming a vast hydrocarbon-rich section of the Arctic has reached the North Pole where it plans to make the first-ever dive below the Pole in mini-submarines.

The dive is expected to gather scientific data, and is seen as a publicity stunt designed to prop up Russia's claim to about 460,000 square miles of the territory, which the country says is the continuation of its continental shelf and contains 25% of the world's oil and gas reserves, according to a U.S. survey, made accessible by the receding of polar ice due to global warming.

"According to reports from the Akademik Fedorov research ship, Mir mini-submarines are scheduled to begin their dive on the morning of August 2," Russia's Arctic Institute said.

The Akademik Fedorov, carrying two mini-submarines which will dive 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) below the surface, is trailing a nuclear icebreaker.

"Favorable weather conditions are expected in the area: weak winds and visibility of up to 20 kilometers [12 miles]," the institute said.

Researchers in the mini-submarines Mir 1 and Mir 2 will take soil and fauna samples on the ocean bed, leave a Russian flag and a message to future generations in a capsule, and establish a video link with the International Space Station.

"This is an extremely important act for Russia, and will demonstrate our capabilities in the Arctic. It is like hoisting a flag on the Moon," a spokesman for the St. Petersburg-based Arctic research institute said.

Russia's veteran explorer and lawmaker Artur Chilingarov, who will be in one of the mini-subs, said earlier the Mirs were capable of working at depths down to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet), but had only been tested at 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). He also said retrieving the vessels was an equally tricky task.

Rivalry over the ownership of Arctic hydrocarbons is gaining momentum and oil and gas reserves elsewhere in the world decline. In mid-July, British endurance swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh highlighted the drastic changes in the region being brought about by man-made climate change, by swimming 1 km to the Pole, a feat that would have been impossible a few decades ago.

A U.S. State Department senior legal adviser, John Bellinger, told a newspaper on Tuesday that Washington would ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to join a commission to examine Russia and other states' claims to Arctic waters, and has meanwhile closely followed developments in the region.

Under international law, the five countries with territory inside the Arctic Circle - Russia, the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Denmark, which controls Greenland - can claim only a 320-km (200-mile) economic zone around their coastlines.


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