How Russia Could Annex the Arctic

Russia’s latest military exercise could be it’s latest step toward claiming maritime borders in the Arctic.

Tensions have increased a notch in the Arctic with the news that the Russians have started a major military exercise in the region. Nearly 40,000 servicemen, 41 warships and 15 submarines will be taking part in drills to make them combat-ready—a major show of strength in a region that has long been an area of strategic interest to Russia.

Russia might be reshaping national borders in Europe as it reasserts its geopolitical influence, but the equivalent borders in the Arctic have never been firmly established. Historically it has proven much harder for states to assert sovereignty over the ocean than over land, even in cases where waters are ice-covered for most of the year.

For centuries the extent to which a nation state could control its coastal areas was based on the so-called cannon-shot rule—a three-nautical-mile limit based on the range of a cannon fired from the land. But this changed after World War II, leading to the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) in 1982.

Under UNCLOS, every signatory was given the right to declare territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of up to 200 for commercial activities, such as fishing and oil exploration. Signatories could also extend their sovereignty beyond the limits of this EEZ by up to an additional 150 nautical miles if they could prove that their continental shelves extended beyond 200 nautical miles from the shore.


In material terms, Russia currently has the most to gain from industrially developing its Arctic zone. The Russian Arctic contains significant reserves of hydrocarbons, diamonds, metals and other minerals with an estimated value of more than $22.4tn (£15.2tn). The area is already a major producer of rare and precious metals and important oil and gas fields.

This makes it easy to see why the Kremlin announced in 2008 that it will use the Arctic zone as a “strategic resource base” for the socio-economic development of Russia in the 21st century. In 2013 the Kremlin further observed that such development would be heavily dependent on foreign investment, technology and expertise.

Full article: How Russia Could Annex the Arctic (Defense One)

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