Russia on Tuesday submitted a formal claim to the UN for a 1.2m square kilometre swathe of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole, and clashing with Denmark's rival claim filed last December.
The Russian claim argues that the Mendeleev and Lomonosov Ridges beneath the Arctic Ocean are extensions of the Russian continental shelf.
“… the claim determinating the outer borders of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean is based on the scientific understanding that the central Arctic underwater ridges, among them the Lomonosov, Medeleev, Alfa and Chukotskoye Heights, as well as the in between basins of Podvodnikov and Chukotskaya, have a continental character”, an offical statement, referred to by RIA Novosti, claimed.
Norway is the only one of the five Arctic nations to have had its claims over part of the Arctic Ocean approved by the UN, unlike Denmark, Russia, and Canada, has made no claim over the Pole itself.
But the country has nonetheless been rattled by increasing Russian activity in the region.
On Tuesday, Helene Skjeggestad, leader writer for Aftenposten, Norway's leading quality daily, pointed to the provocative, sanctions-busting visit to Svalbard by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in April, recent Russian military exercises in the Arctic, and the statement by defence minister Sergei Shoygu that he could not rule out the use of force in the Arctic.
“Let there be no doubt: the Arctic is extremely important for Putin. This year alone, there have been a number of warnings about how important,” she warned. “There is going to be a battle for the Arctic. It's just a question of when and how dramatic it gets.”
However Øystein Jensen, a scientist at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, said that it was in fact a positive sign that Russia was following the UN's formal process to determine territorial rights over the Arctic
“Actually, this is a step in the right direction,” he told Aftenposten. “The Russians are showing that they are following the international rules for such things.”
Denmark in December laid claim to the area around the Pole, submitting data to the UN showing that the Lomonosov shelf, a key part of the Russian claim, was an extension of Greenland.
Jensen said that the UN would now start a “sober and sometimes tedious process” to evaluate the scientific basis behind each claim.
Canada has also indicated that it intends to make a claim on the area surrounding the North Pole, but has yet to make a formal submission to the UN.
Russia made its first claim on the Pole in 2001, but the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) asked for stronger scientific evidence to back up its claims.
It has since carried out research into the structures underlying the Arctic.