Russia plants flag on Arctic floor

Russia plants flag on Arctic floor

August 2, 2007

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) — Russian explorers have dived deep below the
North Pole in a submersible and planted their national flag on the
seabed to stake a symbolic claim to the energy riches of the Arctic.

A mechanical arm on Thursday dropped a specially made, rust-proof
titanium flag painted with the Russian tricolor on to the Arctic seabed
at a depth of 4,261 meters (13,980 feet).

"It was so lovely down there," Itar-Tass news agency quoted expedition
leader Artur Chilingarov as saying as he emerged from one of two
submersibles that made the dive.

"If a hundred or a thousand years from now someone goes down to where we
were, they will see the Russian flag," said Chilingarov, 67, a top
pro-Kremlin member of parliament.

Russia wants to extend right up to the North Pole the territory it
controls in the Arctic, believed to hold vast reserves of untapped oil
and natural gas, which is expected to become more accessible as climate
change melts the ice.

President Vladimir Putin congratulated the expedition by telephone on
"the outstanding scientific project," local agencies reported.

Boris Gryzlov, who heads the State Duma lower chamber of parliament and
the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, hailed the expedition as "a new
stage of developing Russia’s polar riches."

"This is fully in line with Russia’s strategic interests," local media
quoted him as saying. "I am proud our country remains the leader in
conquering the Arctic. I am proud United Russia members took part in
this unprecedented mission."

Major Russian channels aired a message from the Russian crew manning the
International Space Station who said "this achievement must inspire the
younger generation".

Earlier on Thursday Canada mocked Russia’s ambitions and said the
expedition was nothing more than a show.

"This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just
plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory’," Canadian Foreign
Minister Peter MacKay told CTV television.

Under international law, the five states with territory inside the
Arctic Circle — Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States and Denmark
via its control of Greenland — have a 320-kilometer (200-mile) economic
zone around the north of their coastline.

Russia is claiming a larger slice extending as far as the pole because,
Moscow says, the Arctic seabed and Siberia are linked by one continental

"Then Russia can give foundation to its claim to more than a million
square kilometers of the oceanic shelf," said a news reader for Russia’s
state news channel Vesti-24, which made the expedition its top news story.

Russian media have said the move could raise tension with the United
States in a battle for Arctic gas.

A Tass reporter on board the mission support ship said crew members
cheered as Chilingarov climbed out of the submersible and was handed a
pair of slippers.

"This may sound grandiloquent but for me this is like placing a flag on
the moon, this is really a massive scientific achievement," Sergei
Balyasnikov, spokesman for Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Institute, told

Russia says the mission is intended to show that the Lomonosov ridge, a
1,800-kilometer underwater mountain range that extends under the Arctic
to near the pole, is a geological extension of Russian territory.

It denied it was a land grab.

"The aim of this expedition is not to stake Russia’s claim but to show
that our shelf reaches to the North Pole," Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov told reporters in Manila, where he is attending a regional
security conference.

The Mir-1 submersible reached the seabed at 1208 Moscow time (0808 GMT)
and returned to the surface exactly six hours later.

A second Russian submersible, manned by Swedish businessman Frederik
Paulsen and Australian adventurer Mike McDowell, reached the seabed 27
minutes later. It reached a depth of 4,302 meters.

Soviet and U.S. nuclear submarines have often traveled under the polar
icecap, but until Thursday none had reached the seabed under the pole.