Vladimir Putin is trying to annex the North Pole—again

Danielle Wiener-Bronner
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is pushing the UN to consider his country's bid for ownership of the North Pole, revisiting a request first made more than a decade ago.

The New York Times reports that Putin is looking for control of an approximately 463,000 square mile swath of Arctic land and ocean, including the North Pole. Russia wouldn't get full control over the area, but would make certain key economic decisions, like how to handle fishing and oil and gas drilling. This control has prompted environmental groups to oppose Putin's bid.


"The melting of the Arctic ice is uncovering a new and vulnerable sea, but countries like Russia and Norway want to turn it into the next Saudi Arabia," Greenpeace's Vladimir Chuprov said in reaction.  "Unless we act together, this region could be dotted with oil wells and fishing fleets within our lifetimes."

If the Kremlin were to take control of the area it would almost certainly use it for profit. The melting ice means that we now have access to previously inaccessible Arctic sites, which are home to valuable oil and minerals.

Tim Williams/NASA

Russia has been trying to lay claim to the North Pole since at least 2002, when it first submitted a bid for control to the United Nations. The UN rejected the request at the time, saying that Russia had failed to provide sufficient evidence of ownership. The Times explains:

Under a 1982 United Nations convention, the Law of the Sea, a nation may claim an exclusive economic zone over the continental shelf abutting its shores. If the shelf extends far out to sea, so can the boundaries of the zone. The claim Russia lodged on Tuesday contends that the shelf extends far north of the Eurasian land mass, out under the planet’s northern ice cap.


Now, Putin is offering a bundle of evidence that the North Pole is rightfully Russia's. Per the Russian Ministry: "Ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research are used to back the Russian claim." Also, back in 2007, a Russian Arctic stuck a flag in the waters below the North Pole, in what http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1559264/Russian-submarine-plants-flag-at-North-Pole.html a "public relations stunt designed by the Kremlin."

A titanium capsule with the Russian flag was planted by the Mir-1 mini submarine on the Arctic Ocean seabed in 2007. (AP Photo/Association of Russian Polar Explorers, file)

Russia is not the only country hoping to mine the North Pole: Denmark, Canada, and other are also vying for control of the melting waters. Sorry, Santa.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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