Russia's Arctic territorial claims under scrutiny

May 31, 1999 02:00 AM

A Russian commentator recently expressed concern about the state of Moscow's claims to offshore oil and gas deposits located beneath the Arctic Ocean.
The Kremlin, the commentator wrote, has been operating under a Soviet-era declaration, promulgated in 1926, that asserts rights over 5.8 million square km of seabed. This area, stretching from the Arctic coast to the North Pole, is believed to contain more than 88 billion tons of oil equivalent, or enough oil and gas to bring in $ 9 trillion at current prices.
Russia's claim to this area was never formally recognised, but the other nations of the world accepted -- more or less by default -- the idea of sectoral division of the ocean for many years.

The discovery of large oil and gas reserves beneath the Arctic appears to have changed the picture; the commentator wrote that Germany, Japan, Norway and other parties had expressed interest in the Arctic and that their claims to the sea could easily conflict with those of Russia. Since the status of the Arctic Ocean has never been formalised, the commentator explained, any country could apply to the United Nations for permission to develop offshore areas not under the formal jurisdiction of any other nation, citing the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea.
That same convention, the commentator added, gives Russia formal rights only to a zone extending 200 miles out from the Arctic coast. If this definition is accepted, Russia can lay claim to only 1.5 billion square km of offshore acreage containing 15-20 billion tons of oil equivalent worth $ 1.5-2.0 trillion. Russian scientists are therefore trying to confirm that a large part of the Arctic seabed -- the 5.8 million square km area mentioned above -- is actually an extension of the Eurasian continental landmass and therefore open to claim by Russian under the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In any case, the commentator wrote, the Kremlin will have to rush to register its claim to the resources under the Arctic Sea with the UN. But experts working at the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources have predicted that the registration process may require two years and 50-60 million rubles.
It is not known whether the Russian government is actually preparing to apply to the UN for recognition of its rights in the Arctic. The interest shown by other countries in the northern deposits indicates that Moscow may encounter as many difficulties in staking its claim as it has in the Caspian Sea, which boasts much smaller proven reserves.
With regard to the Caspian, the Kremlin has wavered between insistence that all five littoral states must share title to offshore deposits and willingness to accept partial division of the sea into national sectors.

Source: NewsBase
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