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.