Russia has sparked an Arctic oil-rush by planting its flag on the ocean floor under the North Pole in a politically charged symbolic gesture to claim the rights to the sea bed which could be rich in oil and gas.
In a dramatic technical feat testing international law, the Russians dispatched two mini-submarines 2.5 miles to the ocean floor in what is believed to be the first expedition of its kind.
But it has raised the hackles of Russia’s neighbours, who also have their eye on the vast mineral deposits that could lie under the Arctic area, and who consider the Russian move as a brazen land grab. “This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory’,” said Peter MacKay, Canada’s Foreign Minister.
Russia has fired the first diplomatic shot in a really cold war. The new oil rush has been galvanised by the accelerated shrinking of the polar ice cap because of global warming, which has allowed exploration that had been previously unthinkable because of the extreme conditions.
But yesterday’s scientific achievement of dropping a titanium capsule containing the Russian flag on to the seabed could not conceal the political advantage gained by Mr Putin. Once again, he has demonstrated to the West Russia’s determination to expand its energy empire.