‘You cannot claim any more:’ Russia seeks bigger piece of Arctic

The United Nations building is pictured in New York, New York, U.S., September 24, 2018. The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf meets twice a year, in the spring and fall, at United Nations Headquarters in New York. A political geography professor at the University of Durham in the U.K. estimates Russia’s submission filed last week expands its original claim by about 705,000 square kilometres. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Russia wants to stretch out imaginary lines on the ocean floor — and below it — and that has one northern security expert worried about consequences for other Arctic countries like Canada.

Last week, Russia filed a submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend a claim to the Arctic Ocean seabed.

The UN still has to review the submission but, if it’s approved, Russia would have exclusive rights to resources in the seabed and below it, and not in the water.

The new submission would push Russia’s claim all the way up to Canada’s exclusive economic zone, an area 200 nautical miles from the coastline, in which Canadians have sole rights to fish, drill and pursue other economic activities.

Philip Steinberg, a political geography professor at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, estimates Russia’s submission expands its original claim by about 705,000 square kilometres.

‘A maximalist submission’

Robert Huebert, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said Russia’s request gets as close to Canada’s 200-mile limit as possible.

“This is a maximalist submission. You cannot claim any more,” said Huebert, an Arctic security and defence analyst with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

Countries have sovereignty over their zones but can submit scientific evidence to the UN to claim control over the soil and subsoil of the extended continental shelf.

Here’s a situation where they’re claiming the entire Canadian and Danish continental shelf as part of their continental shelf.​​​​– Robert Huebert, University of Calgary political science professor

Russia’s amended submission overlaps with those from Canada and Denmark, but does not extend into the north of Alaska.

“In effect, they’re claiming the entire Arctic Ocean as their continental shelf in regards to where their Arctic comes up against Canada’s and Denmark’s,” Huebert said.

The claims from Canada, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), and Russia already overlap at the North Pole, but the amended claim goes beyond that, Huebert said.

“We haven’t seen a country before that’s extended over its neighbours. Here’s a situation where they’re claiming the entire Canadian and Danish continental shelf as part of their continental shelf.”

Huebert noted there have been recent reports of an increased Russian military presence on the Ukrainian border over the last two weeks.

“If the Russians reinvigorate the conflict with Ukraine, that is going to spill into all of this.” he said.

“I don’t think anyone should assume that Russia will do anything less than pursue its maximum foreign policy interests.”

‘Playing by the rules’

Whitney Lackenbauer, a professor at Trent University who specializes in circumpolar affairs, disagrees.

“Russia is playing by the rules. And for those of us who are concerned about Russia’s flouting of the rules-based order, I actually take a great deal of comfort in seeing Russia go through the established process in this particular case,” Lackenbauer said.

He believes Russia’s submission signals eventual talks between the three countries to determine the limits of their continental shelves.

“Setting out to negotiate where the outermost limits would be was something that was always in the cards,” Lackenbauer said.

“I’m not worried about Russia’s actions as an Arctic coastal state seeking to determine the outermost limits of its extended continental shelf.”

Nor is he concerned about potential conflict, since Russia has submitted the required scientific evidence.

“You can’t sit on a continental shelf and claim squatter’s rights to it.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said Canada “remains firmly committed to exercising in full its sovereign rights in the Arctic” according to international law.

The statement also said Russia’s revised outer limit “does not establish new rights for Russia over the newly created overlap areas.”

It said Canada is studying Russia’s revised claim on its outer limits to prepare an appropriate response.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada files submission to establish continental shelf outer limits in Arctic Ocean, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: I was angry with the media for how it covered the Arctic, Blog by Timo Koivurova

Russia: Russia says new data supports its claims to extended continental shelf in Arctic Ocean, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: A group of international researchers has mapped more of the Arctic Ocean floor than ever before, CBC News

United States: New U.S. Arctic strategy focuses on ‘day-to-day competition’ with Russia and China, Radio Canada International

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

Reporter-Editor for The Canadian Press News in Iqaluit Formerly Nunatsiaq News

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *