A closer look at Moscow's claims in the northern seas
MAR 28 2014
A U.S. Coast Guard crew in the Arctic Ocean. (Reuters/Kathryn Hansen/NASA)
In mid-March, around the same time that Russia annexed Crimea, Russian officials announced another territorial coup: 52,000 square kilometers in the Sea of Okhotsk, a splotch of Pacific Ocean known as the "Peanut Hole" and believed to be rich in oil and gas. A U.N. commission had recognized the maritime territory as part of Russia's continental shelf, Russia's minister of natural resources and environment proudly announced, and the decision would only advance the territorial claims in the Arctic that Russia had pending before the same committee.
After a decade and a half of painstaking petitioning, the Peanut Hole was Russia's.
Wikimedia CommonsRussian officials were getting a bit ahead of themselves. Technically, the UN commission had approved Russia's recommendations on the outer limits of its continental shelf—and only when Russia acts on these suggestions is its control of the Sea of Okhotsk "final and binding."
Still, these technicalities shouldn't obscure the larger point: Russia isn't only pursuing its territorial ambitions in Ukraine and other former Soviet states. It's particularly active in the Arctic Circle, and, until recently, these efforts engendered international cooperation, not conflict.
But the Crimean crisis has complicated matters. Take Hillary Clinton's call last week for Canada and the United States to form a "united front" in response to Russia "aggressively reopening military bases” in the Arctic. Or the difficultiesU.S. officials are having in designing sanctions against Russia that won't harm Western oil companies like Exxon Mobil, which are engaged in oil-and-gas exploration with their Russian counterparts in parts of the Russian Arctic.
In a dispatch from "beneath the Arctic ocean" this week, The Wall Street Journal reported on a U.S. navy exercise, scheduled before the crisis in Ukraine, that included a simulated attack on a Russian submarine. The U.S. has now canceled a joint naval exercise with Russia in the region and put various other partnerships there on hold.