Russia Jockeys for Possession of Arctic Territory

Russia is one of several countries looking to lay claim to large chunks of Arctic territory that contain vast untapped resources. Max Delany, staff writer for The Moscow Times, talks with Melissa Block about Russia's intentions to plant a flag on the sea bed of the Arctic this week.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Russian explorers are in the midst of a bold mission. They want to plant a Russian flag two and a half miles under the sea on the Arctic seabed directly beneath the North Pole. That Russian flag will be a symbol or Russia's desire to claim hundreds of thousands of square miles of the Arctic shelf and its untapped oil and gas deposits, which are estimated to be huge. As the polar icecap shrinks, interest in tapping these resources is growing. Deep-sea submersibles have been making test dives in the waters near the North Pole.

And Max Delaney with the Moscow Times joins us to tell us about how the mission is going. I understand that these test dives have been going on, but the flag is not planted yet. Is that right?

Mr. MAX DELANEY (Staff Writer, The Moscow Times): Yeah, no. These test dives have been happening. We got confirmation that they went to the test dives yesterday quite successfully. But as yet, these were only to depths of one and a half thousand meters. Eventually, they're going to dive to 4,000 meters. And that will be, hopefully, in the next few days, according to the latest reports coming from the ships.

BLOCK: So they think they can do it?

Mr. DELANEY: I think they're pretty confident about it. I don't think they would have publicized it quite so impressively had they been less than confident that they could achieve it. Although having said that, there have been a few hitches so far. One of the ships ran into engine trouble just after it had left the north of Russia, but they mended it. And they're all back on course and slightly delayed, but they should make the dive.

BLOCK: The idea here is that they're trying to map the bottom of the ocean floor here. They're looking for geologic evidence that the seabed is part of Russia, so they can claim it.

Mr. DELANEY: Yeah. Russia has to, before a U.N. commission, offer the proof that the mainland is connected to this underwater shelf. It's a very, very complex geological exploration that has to go on.

BLOCK: And there are a lot of competing interests here. Countries that were saying, you know, not so fast, Russia.

Mr. DELANEY: Yeah. The part of land that Russia was saying is connected to the mainland actually runs all the way across the North Pole underwater to a point somewhere between Canada and Greenland, Greenland being governed by Denmark. And then you've got the U.S. via Alaska and Norway. They are the two Arctic nations, which supposedly have some sort of claims.

BLOCK: And the idea is that with the polar icecap shrinking, that this area is becoming somewhat more accessible.

Mr. DELANEY: Yeah, particularly from the north of Russia, I think. That's a particular point of melt - of the ice breaking up. So possibly, that's an area where Russia will be looking at. And with the technology improving, with oil prices rising to make it economically viable to drill for oil in these more expensive, more far-off and difficult to reach locations, people are seriously - countries, companies are seriously eyeing out the Arctic.

BLOCK: That's Max Delaney, staff writer for the Moscow Times, telling us about the Russian mission the plant a flag on the seabed underneath the North Pole. Mr. Delaney, thanks very much.

Mr. DELANEY: My pleasure.

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