Putin says Arctic must remain 'zone of peace'
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Thursday for "a zone of peace" in the Arctic as North Pole neighbours scramble to stake their claims to the region's energy-rich seabed.
"We think it is imperative to keep the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation," Putin told international participants at the first Arctic Forum in Moscow, which stressed the eye-watering potential for offshore development.
"We all know that it is hard to live alone in the Arctic," Putin said.
"We have heard futuristic predictions threatening a battle for the Arctic'. But we are carefully tracking the situation in the region, and we clearly see that the majority of scary scenarios about the Arctic do not have any real basis."
Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are locked in a race over how to divide up the Arctic, after US researchers said recently that global warming might leave it ice-free by 2030.
One quarter of the earth's untapped energy riches is believed to be buried in the Arctic sea floor.
But in a nod to environmental concerns raised by many forum participants, Putin pledged Russia would observe strict rules to protect the fragile ecology.
"I want to underline that not one industrial project in the Russian Arctic will be undertaken without consideration for the strictest ecological demands. This is a key position of the Russian Federation," Putin told participants, who included Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson.
The clamour to lay claim to the Arctic floor's riches hinges on rival bids for sovereignty of the Lomonosov ridge, an underwater mountain range stretching from Greenland to Russia.
Last week, Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon reasserted his nation's rival claim to the territory in talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
"We will exercise our sovereignty in the Arctic," Cannon told a news conference following the talks.
The five Arctic nations must make their case for claiming the Lomonosov ridge as an extension of their continental shelf within 10 years of ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The United States is the only one of the five not yet to have ratified the treaty.
Russia this week declared it would spend two billion rubles (64 million dollars) on research in the next three years to bolster its claim, which was rejected by the United Nations in 2002 for lack of evidence.
Russian Natural Resource Minister Yury Trutnev told journalists evidence gathered would prove Russia's right to a swathe of Arctic territory holding an estimated 100 billion tonnes or more of oil and gas reserves.
But Putin on Thursday stressed that the United Nations would ultimately rule on the rival Arctic claims.
"Very serious economic and geopolitical interests intersect in the Arctic, but I have no doubt that all the problems existing in the Arctic, including problems over the continental shelf, can be resolved through an atmosphere of partnership," he said.
© 2010 AFP