Moscow just staked claim to the land of Santa’s workshop, if you believe that sort of thing. The Kremlin submitted a claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) that would expand Moscow’s Arctic holdings by some 463,000 square miles, using the informal-sounding Law of the Sea to assert control over a vast new swathe of territory on the grounds that it extends from Russia’s continental shelf. The New York Times reports:
Under a 1982 United Nations convention, the Law of the Sea, a nation may claim an exclusive economic zone over the continental shelf abutting its shores. If the shelf extends far out to sea, so can the boundaries of the zone. The claim Russia lodged on Tuesday contends that the shelf extends far north of the Eurasian land mass, out under the planet’s northern ice cap.
A similar claim was rejected by the UNCLCS 13 years ago, but Russia hopes new research from a fleet of vessels that has patrolled Arctic waters in the intervening years will produce a different outcome this time around. Moscow wants to get a leg-up on the other Arctic nations—Norway, Denmark, Canada, and yes, the U.S.—in a region scientists say is opening up as our planet’s warming surface temperatures melt its ice.
An ice-free Arctic will present a host of new strategic interests and concerns, not least of which will be the opening of new international shipping lanes. But we’d be remiss not to mention that the Arctic is estimated to contain 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves, a fact not lost on Russia—or Canada for that matter, which itself has already tried to extend its exclusive economic zone in the region. Who said the days of exploration and land grabbing were over?