February 21, 2008 / 2:15 PM / 11 years ago

Putin awards underwater polar explorers

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday awarded medals to three men who planted a Russian flag on the ocean floor under the North Pole last year, staking a symbolic claim to the resource-rich region.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) decorates Frederik Dag Arfst Paulsen, a Swedish member of the 2007 Arctic deep-water expedition and Russia's Honorary Consul in Lausanne, with the Order of Friendship during a ceremony in Moscow's Kremlin February 21, 2008. REUTERS/Pool

In the Kremlin ceremony recognising artists, scientists, military veterans, officers and soldiers, Putin congratulated Artur Chilingarov, Anatoly Sagalivech and Evgeniy Chernyaev with medals designating the men ‘Heroes of Russia’.

“Today we won’t back away from the Arctic, and we will be hard to stop,” said Chilingarov, who presented Putin with a copy of the flag the expedition members planted on the seabed.

Global warming is melting the Arctic ice cap and governments now believe that it is only a matter of time before they will be able to start exploiting previously inaccessible energy supplies locked inside the seabed whose ownership is disputed.

Russia is aiming to prove the Lomonosov Ridge, named after 18th century Russian writer and scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, runs for hundreds of kilometres along the seabed from Siberia, stretching beneath the North Pole. If Russia can prove the link, the Kremlin plans to claim the northern continental shelf and its resources as Russian.

“Russia will expand not only Siberia, but (will expand to) the Arctic as well. We will show that Russia can expand (to) the northern continental shelf,” Chilingarov said.

Chilingarov was aboard one of the submersibles that laid a rust-proof Russian flag at a depth of 4,261 metres (13,980 feet) in the North Arctic Sea.

Reporting by Chris Baldwin; Editing by Caroline Drees

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