February 26, 2009 / 1:29 PM / 10 years ago

Russia, Denmark say law must decide Arctic ownership

MOSCOW, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The battle for the Arctic’s vast reserves of oil and gas can only be decided by international law, Russia and Denmark said after talks on Thursday. Five countries with an Arctic coastline — Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark through its control of Greenland — have competing claims to the region.

Russia said this week it would respond to any moves to militarise the Arctic. It has stepped up its own patrols there.

Arguing that an underwater ridge links Siberia with the Arctic, Russia plans to claim a vast section of the seabed — with a estimated total of 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered gas.

“All problems in the Arctic, including climate change and reducing ice cover, can successfully be considered and resolved within specially created international organisations such as the Arctic Council,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news briefing after meeting his Danish counterpart in Moscow.

The Arctic Council, set up in 1996, includes the five countries with an Arctic coastline plus the Faroe Islands and Iceland, which both lie just outside the Arctic Circle.

Last May the council met in Greenland and agreed to follow the U.N. convention on the Arctic.

International law states the five countries with territory inside the Arctic Circle are allowed a 320-km (200-mile) economic zone north of their shores.

But there is a tangle of claims beyond the economic zones, as the icecap that once made the Arctic Ocean impenetrable year round shrinks. Scientists say oil and gas exploration could begin during the summer months within decades.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said at the news briefing his government agreed cooperation was the best way to solve disputes. “International law should be used if there are contradicting claims from different states,” he said. (Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; writing by James Kilner; editing by Andrew Roche)

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