Arctic Scramble: Russia to Flex Military Muscle in Far North

A number of countries are lusting after untapped natural gas and oil believed to be hidden in the Arctic. Zoom
AP

A number of countries are lusting after untapped natural gas and oil believed to be hidden in the Arctic.

The Arctic is believed to be rich in natural gas and oil, and countries with territory in the region are increasingly looking to exploit it. Russia is now planning a dedicated Arctic military force, and is revamping old Soviet military bases to stake its own claim.

Russia is planning an increased military presence in the Arctic, as several countries increasingly eye the region as a potential boon for natural resources.

President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of top military leaders on Tuesday that Russia was "intensifying the development of that promising region" and needs "every lever for the protection of its security and national interests there."

Earlier this year, Russia completed renovation of an abandoned airfield on the New Siberian Islands, and sent 10 warships and four icebreakers to beef up security there. Putin also said Russia would revamp a number of other Arctic military bases that had fallen into disrepair after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that he would create a special military force dedicated to protecting Russian interests in the Arctic. Putin said earlier this week that Russia needs a greater military presence in the region to counter potential threats from the United States.

An incident in September exposed Russian sensitivity over the Arctic, when police arrested 30 people on board a ship sent by Greenpeace to protest Arctic drilling. The activists, crew members and journalists face charges that could carry sentences of up to seven years in prison.

Canada to Claim North Pole

The comments came just one day after Canada announced plans to claim sovereignty over the North Pole. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said the government has asked scientists to prepare a submission to the United Nations that would extend Canada's territory to the outer reaches of the country's continental shelf.

"We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada's far north," Baird said. The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic contains 30 percent of the world's untapped natural gas resources and 15 percent of oil -- though exploiting the resources is estimated to be extremely costly.

Some scientists say Canada's claim to the North Pole is a long shot. Current international law grants Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States 200 nautical miles of territory off their northern coasts. The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is tasked with evaluating claims like Canada's that expand beyond those boundaries.

In 2007, Russia dropped a canister with a Russia flag at the North Pole to symbolically claim the Arctic seabed as its own.

acb -- with wires

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