Obama Frets Over Melting Ice While Putin Claims The Arctic

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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While President Barack Obama announces regulations he believes will save the Arctic from global warming, Russian President Vladimir Putin is busy trying to claim the North Pole for its vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

On Tuesday, Russia resubmitted a claim to the United Nations for control of 463,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf — the Arctic region is estimated to hold one-quarter of the world’s untapped oil and natural gas reserves. Scientists say oil and gas in this area could become more accessible if temperatures rise enough to shrink Arctic ice coverage.

“The Russian bid covers underwater area of some 1.2 million square km extending for more than 350 nautical miles from the coast,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement obtained by Reuters. “A vast array of scientific data collected during many years of Arctic research serves to justify Russia’s rights to this area.”

Russia has been trying to claim the Arctic since 2002, but the United Nations rejected its effort due to lack of evidence. The U.N. Law of the Sea convention allows countries to claim exclusive economic zones over portions of the continental shelf touching their shoreline.

Under Putin, Russia has made great efforts to reassert its dominance over the North Pole. Russian military bases have been reopened and armed forces have conducted large-scale military demonstrations in the region. Russian drilling rigs have also been traversing the Arctic, looking to tap into the region’s vast hydrocarbon reserves.

While Russia beefs up its icebreaker fleet and military presence, the U.S. has done little to expand its own Arctic footprint. The U.S. only has two icebreaker ships and is dragging its feet on allowing oil companies to explore for oil and gas.

“We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,” Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft told Newsweek. “We’re not playing in this game at all.”

Environmental activists have put pressure on the Obama administration to ban all oil and gas exploration in the Arctic over concerns of global warming. Activists recently created a human shield to prevent Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling rig from getting to the North Pole.

But while Obama largely bows to pressure from activists, Putin has made securing control over the Arctic a major priority for his government. Russia claims “an underwater mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge, which stretches across the Arctic Sea, is part of its own Eurasian landmass,” Reuters reports, which Russia argues means “its Arctic shelf extends up to the North Pole.”

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