Russia says it must stake claim to Arctic resources

MOSCOW Fri Sep 12, 2008 11:49am EDT

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia must stake its claim to a slice of the Arctic's vast resources, the secretary of Russia's Security Council said on Friday at an unprecedented session of the council held on a desolate Arctic island.

Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter, is in a race with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States for control of the oil, gas and precious metals that would become more accessible if global warming shrinks the Arctic ice cap.

Underlining Russia's claims to the region, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev assembled the defence and interior ministers and the speakers of both houses of parliament for the meeting on the Arctic island, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia, the world's biggest country, says a whole swathe of the Arctic seabed should belong to it because the area is really an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

"The Arctic must become Russia's main strategic resource base," Russian news agencies quoted Patrushev as saying. The Council usually meets only in Moscow.

Patrushev, formerly Russia's powerful domestic spy chief, said competition from other Arctic powers was increasing and that Russia must strengthen transport links across its Arctic regions to drive development.

Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States and Denmark -- which governs Greenland -- all have a shoreline within the Arctic Circle, and have a 200-mile (320-km) economic zone around the north of their coastlines.

Russian officials say they are entitled to a bigger share. They base the claim on the contention that the Lomonosov ridge, a vast underwater mountain range that runs underneath the Arctic, is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, any state with an Arctic coastline that wishes to stake a claim to a greater share of the Arctic must lodge its submission with the U.N.'s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Russian geologists estimate the Arctic seabed has at least 9 billion to 10 billion tonnes of fuel equivalent, about the same as Russia's total oil reserves.

Last year a submersible with a senior Russian lawmaker on board planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed. The crew were greeted as heroes when they returned to Moscow.

Russian news agencies said the special Security Council session was held at the Nagurskaya base, Russia's most northerly border outpost. The base is on Alexandra's Land, part of the Russian-controlled Franz Josef archipelago.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Andrew Roche)