Russia will rebuild its Soviet-era network of polar stations and use its icebreaker fleet to help support its claim to the vast resources of the Arctic, the man who led a mission to plant a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed said Wednesday.
Artur Chilingarov, a famed polar scientist who was recently appointed the Kremlin's point man for Arctic issues, said Russia will gather data and resubmit its claim to the United Nations that an underwater mountain range crossing the polar region is part of Russia's continental shelf.
Under a U.N. treaty, that would make the shelf Russian territory and Russia would have ownership of any of its natural resources.
"Russia won't leave the Arctic, we will build up our economic and scientific presence in the region," Chilingarov told reporters. "I'm confident that our claim is fully legitimate."
Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to contain as much as 25 percent of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas. The dispute has intensified amid growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes and new resource development possibilities.
Chilingarov said Russia will rebuild a network of polar stations whose number has dwindled from about 100 during Soviet times to just about a dozen now.
Russia's fleet of six nuclear-powered icebreakers also give it an edge in polar exploration, he said, because they are bigger and more powerful than ships from other Arctic nations.
"Russia has a powerful atomic icebreaker fleet which can get to any area of the Arctic and fulfill any task," he added. "No other Arctic nation has such potential."
In 2007, Chilingarov led two Russian mini-submarines on a mission to stake Russia's claim to the region. The two subs descended 2.5 miles to the Arctic seabed, where they collected geologic and water samples and dropped a titanium canister containing the Russian flag.
Chilingarov said putting a flag on the Arctic seabed had a symbolic meaning, but Russia now needed to back up its claim with scientific data.
Moscow first submitted the claim to Arctic seabed in 2001 to the United Nations, but it was rejected for lack of evidence. Chilingarov said Russia may resubmit the claim in 2013 after collecting more data.
A Kremlin strategy paper signed by President Dmitry Medvedev last month singled out the Arctic as one of the areas of fierce competition for energy resources — and even said that battles over energy riches may trigger military conflicts near Russian borders.
But Chilingarov downplayed the danger of military confrontation in the Arctic, voicing confidence that Arctic nations will divide the region's riches in line with international law.
"We will defend our economic interests, but I don't foresee any conflicts in the future," he said.
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