The territorial expansion of Russia: after Crimea, the Arctic

While annexing Crimea without firing a shot, Russia began to sign another conquest at very different latitudes. The UN commission on limits of the continental shelf has recognized the right on an area of 52,000 square kilometers in the sea of Okhotsk, off the coast of Kamchatka.

credits Mikhail Mikhin/Ria Novosti

"It's just the beginning of our claims on the Arctic," said the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment. Meanwhile, Putin reopened the Soviet military bases in the Arctic.

Artur Chilingarov knows the bottom of the sea like Indiana Jones knows the sands of the desert. Grim eyes and Georgian blood, the explorer has two gold medals on his chest: Hero of the Soviet Union and Putin's Russia. In August 2007, on board the submarine Mir-2, he planted a titanium Russian flag on the bottom of the North Pole, making the diplomats all over the world jump on their chairs and giving way to the biggest race to the North Pole since Amundsen. "The Arctic belongs to Russia. The North Pole is an extension of the Russian continental shelf" he is continuously repeating.

Now that the territorial expansion of Russia is no longer a taboo, that the Crimea is the trophy of Putinism and the remotely controlled war in the east of Ukraine leaves Western partners unimpressed, the Arctic is within reach.

A billion-dollar deal

According to scientists, the Arctic ice cap has shrunk by 40 percent over the past twenty years and will disappear within a dozen. Pumping oil and gas where there is now ice is no longer impossible. The Arctic is going to be a tough battleground between Russia and the other Arctic countries, especially the United States and Canada, and Chilingarov is the key man. The polar ice is melting fast and is about to release an immense wealth in terms of gas and oil reserves. Experts estimate that 10-15% of all the oil and even in 30% of all the gas not yet discovered are in the Arctic, making it the biggest reservoir of untapped natural resources. The giant state-owned Gazprom has invested billions of dollars in exploration and exploitation projects. Its flagship, which alone cost $ 6 billion, is the Prirazlomnaja project, the giant offshore platform of last year's Greenpeace affaire.

The sights of Russia points in particular to a region called the Lomonosov ridge, a 1800 km long underwater ridge that connects the coast of Russia to the North Pole. The team led by Chilingarov sent to New York a massive scientific evidence to prove that the ridge is a natural extension of the Eurasian continent. If the UN were to recognize Russia's right on the Lomonosov ridge, Moscow would put its hands on a third of all known oil reserves yet to be discovered. Just enough for the Kremlin to put in place all the weapons at its disposal.

The militarization of the Pole

The easy conquest of Crimea must have galvanized Moscow. In April, Putin ordered the creation of a military bases system in the Arctic, handled by a special agency under the direct control of the Kremlin. The plan for the militarization of the Arctic has had a sudden acceleration after Putin last year ordered the reopening of a base abandoned by the time of the collapse of the USSR and massive military exercises were carried out in the ice. "Russian oil and gas production facilities, loading terminals and pipelines in the Arctic must be protected from terrorists and other potential threats," Putin said. Which terrorist organization can strike at the Pole is still unclear.

Following the crisis in Ukraine, the Hillary Clinton has asked Canadians to make a common front against Russian aggression in the Arctic and not coincidentally Canada was among the countries that mostly supported the sanctions on Moscow. Last month two F18 Hornet of the Canadian Air Force scrambled and send back a Russian Tu-95 bomber in the Arctic skies. The toughest clash between U.S. and Russia will take place not in Ukraine, but at the Pole.

The deterioration of relations with Europe and America, consequently to the crisis in Ukraine, could have the double effect of hindering the resolution of the dispute on the ridge by the UN and make Russia even more aggressive over the 70th parallel.

Moscow's stance, at the Pole as in Ukraine, is perfectly summed up by Chilingarov: "What we care about is the interests of Russia. Simply, there are other priorities for us."

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