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Russia using military might to stake claims on North Pole, energy reserves


Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and President Vladimir Putin speak during a defence ministry meeting in Moscow on December 10, 2013. Putin ordered today Russia's military to step up its presence in the Arctic after Canada signalled its intention to claim the North Pole and surrounding waters.



This is the ultimate unfair fight: While Russia flexes its military muscle in the Arctic, Canadian politicians say their claiming the North Pole because they need to protect Santa Claus.

Russia and Canada might be trying to renew the cold war, but the rhetoric tossed from both corners amounts to little more than a snowball fight, observers suggest.

Political powers from these northern neighbors drew lines in the snow this week, with Russian President Vladimir Putin using a public stage to reinvigorate his country’s Arctic claims.

“I would like you to devote special attention to deploying infrastructure and military units in the Arctic,” Putin told a Defence Ministry meeting, comments that aired on Russian TV on Tuesday.

Russia is “ever-more actively reclaiming this promising region,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse, to obtain “all the levers necessary for protecting its security and national interests.”

On his wish list is “renewal” of the Tiksi airfield and completion of the Severomorsk-1 airfield, Reuters reported.

The fight is framed differently in Canada, where parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra used Santa Claus as a political pawn to gain traction for the slippery subject at home.

“Of course, we are even defending the north further by making a claim on the North Pole. We know that the (opposition) Liberals do not think that the North Pole or Santa Claus is in Canada. We do. We are going to make sure that we protect them as best we can,” Calandra said, the National Post reported.

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At stake is untold energy resources, with some predicting 30 percent of the world’s natural gas and nearly 15 percent of oil reserves locked under (or near) the North Pole.

Both Russia and Canada have claims on the area, as has Denmark and Norway. It's a politically neutral region, but nations can pursue energy resources through the United Nations.

They just have to prove the seabed reserves are an extension of their continental shelves. Canada submitted a renewed application Friday, and said it will include the North Pole. 

That would likely overlap a Russian claim, the Globe and Mail reported, setting up more sabre rattling. Given the political climates and cultures, there's little doubt of each side's strengths. 

Russia, as Putin said, is restoring two airfields in the area and has 10 naval outposts. Canada spent thousands on stealth snowmobiles, and opened its first base there this year with room for 100 soldiers.

The Russians are building the world's largest nuclear icebreaker, and will add it to an existing fleet of five, the Canadian Press said. Canada has yet to build one and is still designing patrol ships.

Canada has instead spent the last 10 years gathering scientific evidence, something even the Russians acknowledge.

Experts say it will never get that far, regardless.

“It is a fascinating political dance. But in practical terms this is much ado about nothing,” history professor Whitney Lackenbauer told CP. “This is very much an emotional exercise relating to the North Pole as a symbol of the Arctic. The practical aspects are completely immaterial.”

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