Russia Denies Plans to Carry Out 'Unilateral Partition' of Oil-Rich Arctic

MOSCOW (Dow Jones Newswires), September 23, 2008

Moscow has no plans to carry out a "unilateral partition" of the oil-rich Arctic, Russia's foreign ministry said Tuesday, rejecting reports that sparked anger in the region last week.

"Russia strictly abides by the norms and principles of international law and is firmly determined to act within existing international agreements and mechanisms," the ministry said in a statement.

President Dmitry Medvedev said last Wednesday that Russia should "wrap up all the formalities for drawing the external border in the continental shelf," in the Arctic.

The comment sparked international protests, with Norway saying Arctic claims could only be made under the U.N.'s Law of the Sea and Canada saying it would boost military alertness along its northern frontier.

Russia's foreign ministry said the statement was misinterpreted by the Western media "as almost an attempt at unilateral partition."

The ministry said Medvedev was referring to legislation aimed at the "social and economic development" of Russia's north and the law "had no relation to the issue of clarifying the external border of Russia's continental shelf."

Russia has previously said its continental shelf extends along the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea mountain chain in the Arctic. That claim has been rejected by fellow Arctic countries Canada, Denmark, Norway and the U.S.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles from its shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone.

Nations can also provide scientific proof of the natural extension of the undersea continental plate to establish a claim beyond that distance.

Russian scientists last year planted a flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole in a symbolic bid to stake a claim over the region, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has 90 billion untapped barrels of oil.

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