On 3 August 2015 Russia submitted “Partial Revised Submissions in respect of the Continental Shelf in the North Arctic Ocean” to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.[1] This step is extremely important for our national interests in the Arctic and is the culmination of years of oceanographic studies. The aim of those studies was to scientifically confirm the jurisdiction of Russia over the resources of the seabed in a ​​1.2 million square kilometre area beyond Russia’s 200-mile zone (see diagram).

In 2001 Russia became the first country to lodge an application to determine the limits of the continental shelf. Russia argued that the Lomonosov Ridge and Mendeleev Rise are a geological extension of the Siberian continental platform and that, accordingly, areas in the central North Arctic Ocean, Barents and Bering seas fall under Russian jurisdiction. The UN Commission, however, considered the submitted evidence insufficient and requested further information having regard to the current state of scientific knowledge.

A number of polar expeditions were carried out between 2004-2014 to collect data. In the course of those expeditions a comprehensive geological-geophysical survey of the seabed was carried out, including seismic sensing, drilling and other in-depth work. The results made it possible to prove that the ocean floor areas in question, such as the Lomonosov Ridge, the Mendeleev Rise and the Chukchi Plateau, as well as the Podvodnikov and Chukchi Basins separating them, have continental origins and are a natural extension of the Russian mainland.

The importance of this step is determined, in the first place, by the unique resources of the Arctic Ocean – on its floor are over 200 prospective oil and gas fields. Moreover, the potential reserves of hydrocarbons on the shelf to which Russia, in accordance with international law, lays claim, amount to approximately 4.9 billion tonnes of fuel[2]. No less important is the fact that despite difficult economic conditions Russia continues to confirm its status as an Arctic Power, and is able to carry out unique research and plan for the long term. After all, the possibility of developing new offshore fields is only envisaged in the distant future, when there is a shortage of hydrocarbons to develop fields more cheaply, and when new technologies, as well as climactic changes in the Arctic, will make production more cost-effective and safe.

The lack of immediate economic benefit leads some experts to comment about  the purely political aspect of the issue[3]. However, such opinions do not take into account the current international processes occurring in the Arctic, including the ongoing discussions by non-Arctic states on the need to “internationalise world heritage”, as well as the revitalization by Russia’s partners in the “Arctic Five” of legal arguments in support of their claims under international law. Thus, a corresponding application from Denmark, laying claim to an area of ​​almost 900 square kilometres, was filed at the end of 2014 and, to a large extent, overlaps with the areas of the ocean floor claimed by Russia.

Russia’s advancement of scientifically based demands within the framework of international procedures are thus a necessary and timely step, which will promote the growth of our country’s economic potential and allow future generations to benefit from the rich natural resources of the Arctic.

[1] http://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/rus01_rev15/2015_08_03_Exec_Summary_Russian.pdf

[2] http://www.mnr.gov.ru/news/detail.php?ID=141707

[3] For example: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2782045