© Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

TASS-FILE. March 29-30 2017, in Arkhangelsk will host the IV international Arctic forum “the Arctic – territory of dialogue”. Editorial from the guardian, the DOSSIER prepared a background material about the Russian possessions in the Arctic.


For the first time Russia has announced its rights to the Arctic territory in 1916 the Ministry of foreign Affairs sent to foreign countries note the inclusion in its territory of all the lands, “located to the North of the Asiatic coast of the Russian Empire”. Soviet Union in the Memorandum of the people’s Commissariat of foreign Affairs from November 4, 1924, addressed to all States, confirmed the provisions of the notes 1916 of the accessories of the Federation of all lands and Islands that constitute the Northern continuation of the Siberian continental plateau .

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The question of the boundaries of the Soviet Arctic zone was regulated in the decree of the Presidium of the CEC of the USSR of 15 April 1926 “On declaring the territory of the USSR lands and Islands located in the Arctic ocean”. The document stipulated that “the territory of the USSR are all both open and able to be open in the future, lands and Islands located in the Arctic ocean to the North of the coast of the USSR to the North pole between the Meridian of 320 degrees 4 minutes 35 seconds. East longitude from Greenwich passing along the Eastern side of Vaida-lip using triangular pillar on a promontory Securcom, and Meridian 168 degrees 49 minutes 30 seconds. West longitude from Greenwich, passing through the middle of the Strait separating the Ratmanov island and Kruzenstern group of the Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait”.

The Ordinance made an exception for lands and Islands that belong to foreign States had previously recognized the Soviet government (meant the Spitsbergen archipelago and Bear island, ownership of which Norway is enshrined in the Treaty of Paris of 9 February 1920).

In 1979 the USSR said the Eastern borders of its Arctic possessions “168 degrees 49 minutes 30 sec.” to “168 degrees 58 min 49,4 sec.”.

The Arctic zone of the Russian Federation

May 2, 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed the decree “About land territories of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation”. According to this document, the Russian Arctic includes the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk region, Komi Republic and Yakutia; Krasnoyarsk Kray; the Nenets, Chukchi, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous district, as well as “land and Islands located in the Arctic ocean and some uluses of Yakutia, who were declared Soviet territory the decree of the Presidium of the CEC of the USSR of 15 April 1926”. With Russian Arctic zone bordering the territory of four countries: USA, Canada, Norway and Denmark, which owns Greenland.

The total area of the Arctic lands of Russia is about 3 million square km (18% of the territory of the Russian Federation), including 2.2 million square kilometres of land, where more than 2.5 million people. It is less than 2% of Russia’s population (146,8 million) and more than 54% of the total population of the whole Arctic (4.6 million).

Produced within the Arctic minerals, their proven reserves and inferred resources constitute the bulk of the mineral resource base of the Russian Federation. It produces more than 90% of Nickel and cobalt, 60% copper, is removed about 80% gas and 60% oil, most of Russia’s diamonds. The potential reserves of these raw materials account for over 70-90% of Russia’s total. According to the Secretary of the Russian security Council Nikolai Patrushev, the Arctic accounts for 11% of national income, generated 22% of the volume of all exports.

Problems of international legal status

At the moment international legal status of the Arctic is not finally settled. In contrast to the land areas of the coast and Islands of the Arctic shelf, stretching to the North pole, does not belong to any of the States. It claimed, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States.

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There are two competing approaches to the definition of the status of the Arctic territories. On the one hand, they can be regarded as open sea. On the other – as a special state of adjacent countries, due to the fact that the Arctic ocean is in large part represents the ice surface.

According to the second view, the Arctic States, due to its geographical position and historical reasons, the claim to special preferential rights in the so-called Arctic sector. This term is understood as the space of the basis which is the coast of the country, and the side lines – meridians from the North pole to the Eastern and Western borders of that state. The area of the Arctic sector of the Russian Federation, defined according to this approach, is about 9 million sq km, of which 6.8 square meters. km sea area of the Arctic ocean.

Existing international laws, however, do not recognize the special rights of the Arctic Nations. According to the UN Convention on the law of the sea (1982; ratified by Russia in 1997), the full sovereignty of the coastal state covers only the 12-mile zone of the coastal territorial waters. Partial sovereignty extends to the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. In the case of non-approval of sectoral division of the Arctic Russia is losing the sovereign rights of 1.7 million square kilometers of its Arctic sector.

According to article 77 of the UN Convention on the law of the sea 1982, coastal States also have sovereign rights (in particular, the development of natural resources) in the area of their continental shelf. However, according to article 76, the continental shelf of a coastal state comprises the seabed and subsoil “throughout the natural continuation of the” underwater land territory of the state, up to the outer limits of the continental margin.

The application to the UN

In 2001, for the first time Russia sent to the UN Commission on the limits of the continental shelf a presentation on the expansion of its external borders on the Arctic shelf. The basis was the study of sea-bottom relief, in which it became clear that the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleyev ridges running along the bottom of the Arctic ocean, are a continuation of the Siberian continental platform. The first application was rejected, however, in August 2015 was filed with the new, complemented by results of recent research. Her presentation at the UN was held February 9, 2016, the application review process can take up to 5 years. In case of approval, the area of the Russian continental shelf will increase by 1.2 million sq km (currently at 4.1 million square km).