Monday, November 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Wins UN Support on Okhotsk Sea Claims But Lacks Resources to Push Larger Arctic One

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – A sub-commission of the United Nations has recognized the central portion of the Okhotsk Sea between the Kamchatka peninsula and the Russian Far East mainland as an internal Russian sea, and Moscow officials say that they expect the full international commission to ratify that decision in March 2014.

            The UN body has done so on the basis of Moscow’s argument that the continental shelf of the Russian Federation extends out under 52,000 square kilometers of that sea and thus the body of water and its seabed should be controlled and exclusively exploited by the Russian authorities (

            But a Russian newspaper is warning that the Russian government, as a result of cutbacks in spending and poor planning, may not be able to gain support for its far larger claims on the Arctic Ocean because it will not be able to generate and disseminate the kinds of data international bodies typically require (

            Moscow has been seeking such international recognition for the Okhotsk Sea since 2001 on the basis of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but earlier, as points out, “Russia did not have the data confirming its right to this enclave” or the formal agreement of Japan

            Consequently, Russian officials and experts are jubilant.  Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Academy of Sciences Institute for Oil and Gas, said that objections to Russia’s claim had always been “nonsense” and that the new decision represents the simple triumph of justice.

            Maksim Shingarkin, deputy chairman of the Duma natural resources committee, was equally pleased: “This means that Russia can not only conduct research on this shelf but etract useful natural resources from the entire Okhotsk Sea ... The seabed is [now] in the exclusive economic one of Russia.”

            Bogilyansky said that Moscow hopes to build on this victory by gaining support for its claims to large segments of the Arctic on the basis of the extension of the Russian continental shelf far into that sea. Next year, he said, Moscow will formally make a claim on 1,200,000 square kilometers, a claim that Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland contest.

            But if Moscow has been successful on the Okhotsk Sea, it may face far more difficulties in making its case for the Arctic, despite the fact that President Vladimir Putin has promoted that claim, most recently by dispatching the Sochi Olympic flame to the North Pole as part of its “Russian” tour.

            According to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the UN earlier rejected Moscow’s claims on the Arctic but gave the Russian authorities until 2014 to gather evidence in support of them even though it is clear that “no country in the world is interested in a positive answer for us to the resolution of this question.” Too much is at stake.

            But unfortunately, the paper continues, the Russian government, while talking as if everything were going its way, has failed to support the infrastructure necessary to gain the kind of data that the United Nations body requires. It lacks ships that can support deep drilling in the Arctic, and it has cut back funds for expertise at the Academy of Sciences on the region.

            Consequently, it will either have to rely on an international program, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, for the data, something it has been unwilling to pay for up to now and on foreign seismic stations because it doesn’t have enough of its own. Or it could face rejection, something that could prove politically humiliating and economically devastating.

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