Research by Russian naval vessels will allow Moscow to claim even more of the Arctic Ocean as extending over Russia’s continental shelf, a development of concern because some Moscow officials are arguing that Russia should act unilaterally to defend such claims if the UN Commission the Limits of the Continental Shelf doesn’t go along.
For almost two decades, Moscow has been pressing that commission to agree to Russian claims and as recently as two years ago declared that the UN body was ready to recognize them ( see Moscow Says UN Commission has Accepted Most Russian Claims to Arctic Shelf and Moscow close to UN recognition that its continental shelf extends far into the Arctic ).
But as the issue has dragged on – and the US plays no role in this because it has not ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty on which the Commission operates – Moscow officials are urging Russia to ignore the UN if it doesn’t agree with Russia’s position and defend its claims ( see Moscow Should Act Unilaterally if UN Doesn’t Rule in Its Favor on Arctic Seabed, Russian Lawyers Say ).
Russia’s claims, based on its belief that its continental shelf extends well into the middle of the Arctic Ocean, have been enormous. But now there are indications that they are about to get even larger, something that could further complicate international shipping and development of the Far North.
Last week, Vice Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov , the deputy commander of the Russian fleet, said research by Russian naval vessels indicates that the continental shelf is even larger than most had thought up to now. Such research will undoubtedly factor into Russian claims at the UN and the assertion of Russian power generally.
As Oleg Falichev of the influential Voenno-Promyshlenny Kuryer puts it, “the work of military hydrographers and scholars allows the introduction of additions to Russia’s claims regarding the external border of the continental shelf” in the Arctic Ocean.
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