Russia has eyes on diamond-rich Arctic

The Arctic region is expected to be the disputed territory between the world's powers. Source: Alamy / Legion Media

The Arctic region is expected to be the disputed territory between the world's powers. Source: Alamy / Legion Media

Russia submitted a review application to the UN earlier this month to expand the outer margin of the Arctic's continental shelf by connecting it to sections of the Arctic Ocean seabed. According to Russian analysts, the location contains diamond deposits, and possible hydrocarbon reserves.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it had, on August 4, 2015, submitted a review application to the UN for expansion of the outer margin of the Arctic's continental shelf. The announcement on the Ministry’s site said, "Russia's application includes underwater spaces measuring 1.2 million square metres (around 463,000 square miles), which extends more than 350 sea miles from the coast. To justify its claim to this territory, Russia used a large volume of scientific data, accumulated during many years of Arctic research.”

In the application Russia lays claims to the Lomonosov Ridge, the Alpha Ridge, the Chukchi Cap and the Podvodnik and Chukchi Ocean Basins separating them. According to the Russian claim, this territory is a natural extension of the continental margin.

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea UNCLOS) allows the expansion of countries' economic zones on the condition that the seabed beyond their confines is a natural extension of the continental margin. Besides Russia, Denmark, Canada, Norway and the US are also laying claims to areas beneath the Arctic Ocean. Their interest in the northern seas is based on the opinion of geologists that the seabed contains almost 30 percent of unexplored natural gas reserves and 15 percent of oil reserves. Experts also say that this part of the shelf has a canal of diamond deposits.

The primary justification

"The Laptev Sea, as has already been proven, has a diamond canal on the surface of its shelf, which will allow Russia to become even more competitive with other countries in the production of diamonds," says Vera Smorchkova, Professor of Labour and Social Policy at the RANEPA Institute of State Service and Administration, and assistant to the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Affairs of the North and Indigenous Peoples.

According to her, the eastern part of the Arctic has not been explored sufficiently for hydrocarbons and, also Russia's shelf deposits are located in the Barents Sea.

Smorchkova said Russia had originally applied to gain possession of the Lomonosov Ridge in 2001, but that required additional material that could have proven that the territory was indeed an extension of the continent and thus belongs to Russia.

"All the necessary documents were prepared and renewed. Russia's application was supposed to be reviewed in 2014. Now we are approaching the deadline." This ridge is located in front of Yakutia, which contains the largest diamond deposits in Russia.

The prospects of a solution

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq commented on Russia's application at a press briefing on August 4, saying that the application would not be reviewed in the near future for objective reasons: "Upon receipt of a submission by the Secretary-General, the consideration of that submission shall be included in the provisional agenda of the next ordinary session of the Commission, provided that that session, is held not earlier than three months after the date of the publication by the Secretary-General of the executive summary of the Submission, including all charts and coordinates. In this case, given that there is no plenary during the upcoming thirty-ninth session (October/November 2015) the revised submission will be included in the provisional agenda for the fortieth session of the Commission, to be held in February/March 2016 (exact dates will be determined by the General Assembly in late December)."

"The decision to expand the shelf margins is not only of a geographical and economic nature, but it also risks becoming a political issue," said Alexei Kozlov, chief analyst at UFS IC. In the current heightening tensions between Russia and the West, it cannot be excluded that the final decision to expand the shelf will be postponed under a variety of pretexts.

"Sooner or later, however, the issue will mostly likely be resolved positively, but the shelf will not become Russia's territory without a fight," concluded Kozlov.

 

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