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At UN, Russia's Claim to North Pole Seabed Is Set Forth, Murky Allegiances of Commission Members

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- Russia's claim to the North Pole is among the topics being debated this week at the United Nations in closed meetings of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.  A Russian on the Commission, Yuri Kazmin, told correspondents on Thursday that contrary to some accounts, Russia is not claiming the whole Lomonosov Ridge, only the portion reaching the North Pole. Elsewhere, Mr. Kazmin has been listed as "senior geologist, Severneftegaz," a company described as "the licensed operator of the Yuzhno-Russkoye gas deposit."

     Inner City Press asked if Russia's widely-reported flag-planting was planned, before the submarine went down, or was a product of exuberance. "I do not know," Yazmin replied. He noted that the success of Russia's claim before the Commission, which was first filed in 2001, "does not depend on express proclamation" such as a flag planting.  It doesn't hurt, though, one correspondent muttered.

            The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is, as even Mr. Kazmin describes it, made up of 21 experts serving in their personal, and not national, capacity -- with "due regard for geographical distribution."

            What does that mean? Inner City Press asked Mr. Kazmin is he was speaking for Russia. "You asked for a briefing about Russia's position, and I've given it," he answered. Here, I am speaking for Russia. Presumably in the UN's basement at the Commission, it is different.

            The lines between personal and national capacity appear to be fluid. Back in 1998, during the fourth session of the International Seabed Authority, Mr. Kazmin put in an appearance for Russia, "formally invoking a procedure under the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (in Article 162, paragraph 2 (o) (ii)), calling for the Authority to adopt rules on exploration for such mineral resources other than polymetallic nodules." So before one of the UN's undersea bodies, Kazmin represents Russia, while on another, he serves putatively in his personal capacity. This is true of other member states as well -- this is an issue of UN lack of clarity, not of Mr. Kazmin.

            If anything, Mr. Kazmin provided a torrent of information. He explained how in 1958, a country's Continental Shelf was defined only to a depth of 200 meters, based on the technology of the time only allowing drilling that far down. In 1982 countries' reach offshore was extended down the slope to the Shelf's next rise. Even past that, if the topography rises up, a country can stake a claim. Asked for clarification by Inner City Press, he spelled out the name of the science: bathymetry, essentially, underwater topography.

Offshore petroleum: North Pole's future?

            One problem, Kazmin said, is that in Russia, bathymetry information is confidential. That is because knowing the contours of the sea floor can help with the navigation of military submarines. Therefore Russia is recreating the research in a form that can be shared. It is using eco-sounders.  There is talk of multi-beam.

            There is the science, there is the sloppiness about the difference between personal and national representation. And then there are the headlines, of Canada rushing its mission to the North Pole, of Russia planting the flag, of ice melting making resource extraction more profitable. It is an undersea Great Game, as one long-time correspondent put it. There are flags and there are words -- in that sequence.

   It may be worth noting that in 2006 Mr. Kazmin made a presentation at Petroleum Offshore of Russia on the "Kola-Kanin homocline of the Barents Sea: the project on geological investigation of the new potentially profitable petroleum province of the Arctic shelf " as the "Senior geologist, Severneftegaz," a company described as "the licensed operator of the Yuzhno-Russkoye gas deposit."

Yuri Kazmin, from the Petroleum Offshore of Russia program

   Back on August 2, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office about Russia's claim

Inner City Press: There's this report of Russia planting this flag on the seabed in the North Pole, saying they own it.  And various countries are saying that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will have to rule on this.  Is there anyone to ask?

 Associate Spokesperson:  We're aware of the reports.  We don't have any comment on them.  You could check with the Tribunal dealing with the Law of the Sea, in Hamburg, whether they have anything to say at this stage.  I don't believe that they have had any comment at this early stage of this case.

            But it's not early in the case. In fact, Russia filed its claim with the UN for this underwater real estate back in 2001, but got denied. Now it is down collecting evidence, to re-submit a claim that the Lomonosov Ridge is in fact an extension of the Siberian continental shelf and so belongs to Russia. Russia's former UN Ambassador and now Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters that "the goal of the expedition is... to prove that our shelf reaches the North Pole." We'll continue to follow this.

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Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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