OTTAWA — Russia’s new bid for a vast swath of Arctic territory, including the North Pole, backs Canada into an uncomfortable corner in future negotiations over the frozen region, a defence expert says.
Moscow’s revised international submission was revealed Tuesday in a statement by the country’s foreign ministry and claims 1.2 million square kilometres of the Arctic shelf.
Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway are working with the UN to define jurisdictional boundaries in the Arctic, which is thought to hold as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea allows all coastal nations to extend their jurisdiction beyond 200 nautical miles as long as it can proven the boundary is a natural extension.
In late 2013, the Harper government ordered officials to rewrite Canada’s Arctic claim to include the North Pole and more survey work is taking place this summer before Ottawa submits the document.
Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary says Prime Minister Stephen Harper should make clear whether Canada is eventually willing to negotiate with Russia where claims intersect.
A translated version of the submission, released by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, says the two countries had previously agreed to allow the UN commission overseeing the issue to evaluate and rule on the quality of the hydrographic research “without prejudice to the rights of the other state.”
The commission’s determination should also not impede a final boundary decision, the 36-page report said.
That means the two sides and possibly Denmark which has already filed its claim to the North Pole, will have thrash out the issue.
In its pitch, Russia states clearly it willing to abide by the results of the international process.
Huebert says the Harper government has taken a tough line on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the questions that need to be asked are when does Canada re-engage diplomatically and whether that would signal de facto acceptance of the situation in Ukraine.
“It is Canada’s interest to have a safe and stable Arctic,” Huebert said in an interview on Tuesday. “Entering into negotiations could leave the impression that it is back to business as usual.”
Canada’s strident rhetoric and recent use of the Arctic Council as a platform to hammer Russia over the Ukraine crisis will make it difficult to climb down, Huebert suggested.
But he said negotiations, which are expected within the next five years, will have to take place, regardless of the situation in Ukraine.
“I think it’s inevitable,” he said.
The submission will also likely drive a further wedge between Ottawa and Washington, which according to published reports chastised Canada for making Ukraine an issue at the council meeting last spring.
The more Moscow looks reasonable on this issue and others, the more isolated the Harper government will become, Huebert said.
Canada and Russia clashed publicly in 2007 when Moscow staked a symbolic claim to the North Pole by planting a flag on the ocean floor.
With files from The Associated Press