August 7, 2007 / 10:43 AM / 12 years ago

Russia North Pole explorers dismiss their critics

Arctic explorers (L-R) Vladimir Gruzdev, Artur Chilingarov and Anatoly Sagalevich leave an airport building after their arrival in Moscow August 7, 2007. Chilingarov led an expedition of explorers who dived deep below the North Pole in submersibles and planted the Russian national flag on the seabed to stake a symbolic claim to the energy riches of the Arctic. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian explorers who planted a flag beneath the North Pole made a triumphant homecoming on Tuesday and said they did not care about foreign critics who complained their mission was a crude land grab.

“The Arctic always was Russian, and it will remain Russian,” expedition leader Artur Chilingarov told reporters after he landed at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, where wellwishers brandished bottles of champagne and Russian flags.

“We are happy that we placed a Russian flag on the ocean bed, where not a single person has ever been, and I don’t give a damn what some foreign individuals think about that,” he said.

A Russian mini-submersible last week planted a rust-proof Russian flag on the Arctic Ocean bed as part of an expedition intended to strengthen Russia’s claims to the North Pole, which under international law belongs to no single state.

Russia was joining a scramble by other states with Arctic coastlines to gain access to the region’s energy resources.

Canada mocked the expedition, with Foreign Minister Peter Mackay saying Russia was behaving like a 15th century explorer. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory,” he said.

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