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Russian Explorers Plant Flag On North Pole Seabed

Expedition leader Artur Chilingarov in front of the icebreaker used to reach the North Pole (ITAR-TASS) August 2, 2007 -- Russian media report that Russian explorers have made a historic dive into the Arctic Ocean in two submersibles and planted a Russian flag on the seabed.

The explorers today were reported to have reached the seabed directly under the North Pole at a depth of more than 4,200 meters, and are expected to carry out scientific experiments.

The expedition, led by lawmaker Artur Chilingarov, aims to advance Russian claims to a swathe of Arctic seabed believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Under international law, Russia, Canada, Norway, the United States, and Denmark each control an economic zone in the Arctic Ocean extending 320 kilometers from their coastlines. But Russia is claiming a larger slice extending as far as the North Pole, and intends to use geologic data from the mission to support its claims.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today reiterated Moscow's argument that Russia and the North Pole are part of the same continental shelf.

"The goal of this expedition is not to plant a border post and assert Russia's rights, but to prove that our shelf stretches to the North Pole. There are concrete scientific methods for that," Lavrov said. "I think this expedition, including the mini-submarine reaching the bottom of the Arctic Sea in the area of the North Pole, will supply additional scientific evidence for our aspiration."

Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay dismissed the expedition as a "show," saying that claiming territories by planting flags was a tactic suited to the 15th century.

The Kremlin has given high priority to the expedition, with President Vladimir Putin granting Chilingarov the status of presidential envoy to the Arctic.

Expedition leaders say their main concern is resurfacing through the hole in the ice where the dive began, as the submersibles are not strong enough to break through the ice cap.

(compiled from agency reports)

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