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Russia Hosts International Arctic Forum

  • RFE/RL

"The Arctic: Territory Of Dialogue" summit gets under way in Moscow.

"The Arctic: Territory Of Dialogue" summit gets under way in Moscow.

A two-day international forum has begun in Moscow in an attempt to stop the Arctic from becoming a battleground over riches.

The more than 300 participants at the event, dubbed "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue," are to discuss climate change, issues connected with natural resources, and prospects for the sustainable development of the region.

The forum is being organized by the Russian Geographical Society, whose president, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, said the affirmation of the Arctic as a "zone of peace and cooperation" would also figure importantly during the talks.

"The International Arctic Forum brings together acclaimed experts and distinguished scientists from all over the world, who will not only be able to exchange views and experience but also begin comprehensive cooperation on current Arctic region matters," Shoigu said.

The Arctic states -- Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark, and the United States -- have been trying to claim legal control over parts of the region.

Claims On The Arctic

The moves come amid mounting evidence showing that global warming is shrinking the polar ice cap, making the region more accessible to huge reserves of gas and oil.

The area north of the Arctic Circle is believed to hold about one-quarter of the world's natural gas and oil reserves. Leopold Lobkovsky, the deputy director of Russia's P.P.Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, told the forum that Russia's sector of the Arctic held estimated reserves of about 51 billion tons of oil and 87 trillion cubic meters of gas. Russia's total reserves, not including the Arctic sector, are estimated at 10 billion-20 billion tons of oil and 47.5 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Russia, Canada, and Denmark are planning to file separate claims to the United Nations to prove their respective rights to an underwater mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge.

The argument is over which country or countries can claim the coveted ridge -- which is believed to contain massive mineral and oil deposits -- as an extension of their sovereign territory.

Russian Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu at the forum
In 2001, Moscow submitted its territorial claim to the United Nations, but it was sent back because of lack of evidence.

Drifting Research Station

Ahead of the forum, Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Yury Trutnev said Russia would spend 2 billion rubles ($64 million) on research in the next three years to prove its claims.

Canada is also expected to submit its claim in 2013.

And Artur Chilingarov, the Kremlin's point man for the Arctic, said he would head an expedition next month to launch a drifting research station in the Arctic to gather scientific data in support of Russia's claim on Arctic territories.

He said the station would complement a research ship and an icebreaker that have been in the Arctic for two months, seeking evidence for Russia's territorial claims.

Chilingarov led the Russian Arctic 2007 expedition, during which a mini-submarine dropped a canister containing the Russian flag onto the seabed at the North Pole in a symbolic gesture of Moscow's ambitions.

In 2008, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an Arctic strategy paper saying the polar region must become Russia's "top strategic resource base" by 2020.

Inflaming Regional Tensions

In its annual report released this month, the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center said Arctic sea ice melted over the summer to cover the third-smallest area on record. It also warned that global warming could leave the region ice-free in the month of September 2030.

There are concerns that the melting of polar ice risks inflaming regional tensions.

On September 16, visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said the aim of his trip to Moscow was to explain his country's new Arctic policy, which includes a greater military presence in the region.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the security alliance should be used as a forum to address Arctic challenges.

But Medvedev said the region was a zone of "peaceful economic cooperation" and that "a military factor would raise additional problems."

He spoke on September 15 after Russian and Norwegian leaders signed an accord delineating the two countries' maritime border in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean, removing possible disagreements over the distribution of hydrocarbon resources.

The Arctic forum involves officials of some 15 countries, including Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Prince Albert II of Monaco, and representatives of the foreign ministries of polar countries, as well as international organizations such as the World Bank, the Arctic Council, and the environmental group WWF.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address the forum on September 23.

written by Antoine Blua, with agency reports