Russia will send another application to UN on expanding its Arctic territories

Russia will submit a revised application to the United Nations Organization on Tuesday on expanding borders of its continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. Russian minister of natural resources and ecology Sergey Donskoy will make a presentation for members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) which is currently holding its 40th session.

Before his trip to New York, Donskoy said that Russia has all chances to get a positive result. At the same time, he said the decision will most likely not be made fast because Russia claims a vast part of the seabed with an area of more than one million square kilometers. “We have the biggest claim in terms of an area. There are very many materials,” the minister told NTV channel in an interview. He noted that “some experts in the UN commission are already skeptical” about the documents submitted by Russia. “Our task is to prove. As of today, we have very well prepared materials, and we can work on them and prove them. We will do this very actively,” Donskoy stated.

What Russia claims

Russia submitted an application on continental shelf borders to the UN commission on 3 August 2015. Moscow claims the Lomonosov Ridge and other parts of the ocean, including the Mendeleev Ridge, southern part of the Gakkel Ridge and the North Pole. According to lowest possible estimates, this will allow to expand hydrocarbon reserves for at least 5 billion tons.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allows to expand a country’s economic zone if the seabed beyond its borders represents a natural continuation of the continent. Shelf borders by default are established in 200 nautical miles from country’s land borders.

Second try

Russia already tried to prove its right for the enclave in the Arctic Ocean back in 2001. Russia’s application, which also claimed part of the Sea of Okhotsk, was rejected by the UN commission. Experts decided that provided evidence was not sufficient to classify the claimed territory as part of Russian continental shelf.

A decision was made after that claim parts of the Arctic Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk separately. This approach proved more successful. In March 2014 the commission recognized Russia’s claims for part of continental shelf in the Sea of Okhotsk with an area of around 50,000 square kilometers.

Russia simultaneously conducted extensive geological research to prepare a revised application for territories in the Arctic Ocean. Seven expeditions at the Academician Fedorov ship were made in 2005-2014, and seismic research was carried out that collected samples of bottom sediments on the depth of several kilometers.

A unique scientific experiment was carried out near the North Pole in August 2007. For the first time in the history of Arctic exploration, Russian oceanologists and polar explorers descended to the seabed of the Arctic Ocean to the depth of more than four kilometers. Scientists collected samples of soil and water, made photos and shot videos, and placed a Russian flag made of titanium alloy on the bottom of the ocean.

Northern competitors

Russia will hardly get the territory of more than one million square kilometers without a fight. Among other countries that claim the part of the Arctic Ocean with rich hydrocarbon reserves (more than one million tons) are Denmark, Canada, Norway and the United States. However, the United States is the only player in the Arctic that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Consequently, US cannot submit an application to the UN commission.

The first country to have its right to expanding the Artic shelf recognized was Norway. The commission approved its application for an extension of its economic zone by 235,000 square kilometers in separate parts of the Arctic Ocean, Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea in April 2009. As a result, the Norwegian shelf now ends just 600 kilometers away from the North Pole.

However, Russia’s main competitor for now is Denmark as it filed an application for the Lomonosov Ridge on 15 December 2014. According to Denmark’s claim, the ridge is part of Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory.

Russia and Denmark cooperate on the issue of the Lomonosov Ridge. If UN experts come to a conclusion that both countries can have a claim for the ridge from the scientific point of view, the issue of setting borders will be resolved by bilateral talks on the basis of international law.

Canada that joined the Convention in 2003 also claims the Lomonosov Ridge saying it starts from the American continent. Ottawa filed an application for expanding its shelf in the Atlantic Ocean on 6 December 2013 and notified the UN commission that it will later submit an application for expanding its Arctic shelf as well.