Russian Continental Shelf Claim under the Arctic 4

I trust it is plain from recent articles that nobody can accuse me of being an apologist for Putin.

Indeed I have been accused of being in the pay of US neoconservatives to stoke up anti-russian feeling, which I found rather funny. Just now I rather wish I were in the pay of somebody.

Anyway, Russia seems to be doing nothing wrong with its maritime claims in Arctic waters, despite the huge fuss the media is making. Every country is entitled to a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, subject to boundary agreement where claims meet. Beyond that, countries may claim the contiguous continental shelf up to the limit of that shelf, the deep seabed. Whether or not there is ice above the shelf is irrelevant, and unlike the Antarctic, which is of course land, normal maritime rules apply in the Arctic.

Whether an area is continental shelf or not is a geological question. Russia’s claim is not extraordinary. One of the most spectacular continental shelf claims in the World is made by the UK and Ireland, stretching far westwards into the North Atlantic. As Head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Maritime Section at the time, I was deeply involved in the succesful negotiation of the UK/Ireland boundary lines on that shelf.

There is a happy self-limiter here, because if an area contains oil and gas, it is pretty well by definition continental shelf, for obvious geological reasons. The only question is whether it is contiguous and whether it is within an agreed boundary or subject to a legitimate claim by anyone else. Without studying detailed charts, on the face of it current Russian claims look to me perfectly reasonable on both grounds.

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4 thoughts on “Russian Continental Shelf Claim under the Arctic

  • ChoamNomsky

    It's funny that a tiny place like Denmark owns Greenland, and subsequently has a stake in the Arctic.

  • Randal

    Thank you for this characteristically honest and informative comment, Craig.

    It has been a useful corrective for me, having returned from holiday to read the Times today bloviating about this latest jingoism-generator.

    Not a mention, of course, of the UK and Ireland's continental shelf claims, in the Times' nearly full page coverage. But no hesitation on the part of the Times' nasty editorial staff in declaring that "the world [sic!] must reject Russia's underwater land grab".

  • garhane

    A Canadian publication, Embassy, says the Russians sent a mini sub down 4200 metres around the North Pole to scatter tourist items (flags) because they want to claim an extension of the shallow sea area around their country, the continental shelf as part of Russia. I read that this shelf is down about 130 meters, pretty well everywhere. Any of this is science?

    It all sounds like spending a lot of money in a wasteful way, to me, at a time when Canadian scientists have been reduced to trying to get funding from foreign countries because Ottawa has shut up like a sea anemone. The news that the Brits and Ireland have engaged in similar foolishness is no surprise, The Brits have been lying about their situation in the world for over 800 years and it has occasionally been deemed needful for the Irish to set the record straight.

    By the time the Northwest Passage is open for more than a few days in the year the Americans will be into Fortress America and busy repairing dams and bridges all over the place, and Ottawa will go back to sleep with a majority Liberal government.

    On the other hand it might be possible to use this blah blah crisis to get the PM of the moment to spring for one real genuine ice breaker. It will be close to a billion, but better than half a dozen class five boats that can only nibble on ice to make their own way, not break it for other ships.How are we going to be the Great Monitor of the North without a brand new whiz bang major league, and, oh yes, WORLD CLASS icebreaker.

  • Wegal

    There is a more important issue than the right of passage. All parties involved are looking at the potensially huge gas and oil reserves that are sat under the ice. The question is not who gets the ice, but rather, which country is going to destroy one of the few remaining true wilderness enviroments on this planet in the search for yet more unsustainable energy recources. Can anyone even begin to imagine the ecological disaster that would occur when there is a major oil spill in that area.

    You have the USA and Russia ( as well as other contenders )competing with each other to ownership of this resource, how far will each side go in order to gain the rights to it ?

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