Russia denies new law is aimed at Arctic land grab

A025820215.jpgMOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had no intention of unilaterally redrawing its borders in the Arctic to give it a larger chunk of the region’s mineral wealth.

Russia has lodged a claim to expand the territory it controls in the Arctic, irritating other states with Arctic coastlines, including the United States, which are also keen to tap the region’s resources.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week ordered his officials to draft a law setting out Russia’s Arctic borders, after which Canada said it was concerned the Kremlin might be preparing to take unilateral action.

In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the law would apply only to administrative borders inside Russia, and was not connected to its claim for a greater share of the Arctic.

“At issue is a new federal law which will clearly set out which regions of the Russian Federation make up the country’s Arctic zone, which will be covered by measures to promote their social and economic development,” the statement said.

“This law does not relate to the question of clarifying the external boundaries of the Russian Federation’s continental shelf, a corresponding application on which is being reviewed by the United Nations Commission.”

“Russia strictly abides by the norms and principles of international law and is firmly intent on acting within existing international agreements and mechanisms,” the statement said.

International law states the five countries which control the Arctic coastline — Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark via Greenland — are allowed a 320 km (200 miles) economic zone north of their shores.

At a meeting in Greenland in May, the five Arctic states agreed that a United Nations commission would decide how to settle competing territorial claims in the region.

Russia bases its claim for a greater share of the Arctic on scientific studies of an underwater ridge, called the Lomonosov ridge, which Moscow says prove the region is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf.

Around 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas lie under the Arctic seabed, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey said in July.

Russia has a track record of taking assertive steps to defend what it views as its national interests.

It has sent bomber aircraft on patrol near NATO airspace, fought a war last month in Georgia to repel a Georgian attack on a breakaway region and has fiercely opposed U.S. plans to station elements of a missile defense shield in eastern Europe.

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