Russia Insists on an Expanded Boundary in the Arctic Ocean

Russian icebreaker under way
File image courtesy Rosatomflot

Published Dec 10, 2023 12:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Russia has reiterated its ambition for an extended continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. During the 13th international Arctic Forum held last week in St. Petersburg, Russian Navy chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov delivered a speech underlining the Arctic as crucial to Russia’s national security interests.

“There is need for a full-scale expansion into the continental shelf beyond the borders of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone,” Yevmenov said.

Yevmenov observed that there has been intensifying military activity in the Arctic by the U.S and NATO, which he considered a potential conflict in the region. Further, Admiral Yevmenov stressed that virtually all countries in the region have updated their doctrinal documents defining priority national interests in the Arctic. According to him, some of the countries consider Russia’s activities in the region as the key challenge to their own interests and have plans to curb the Russian influence.

“The development of our military component in the Arctic is a forced measure to ward off threats against Russia and stem aggressive actions by other countries. The main instrument for enforcing Russia’s policy in the World Ocean and the Arctic is the Navy, which plays the role of a deterrent factor,” said Yevmenov.

Russia initially made a claim for an expanded Arctic boundary back in 2001. At the time, Moscow filed a submission to the United Nations seeking an expanded Arctic Seabed, which is believed to contain untapped reservoirs of oil and gas. However, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) rejected the submission on the basis of lacking sufficient scientific evidence. In 2015, Moscow re-submitted an updated claim followed by another one in March 2021. In all, Russia’s continental shelf as proposed would encompass almost 70 percent of the Arctic Ocean, overlapping EEZ’s of other Arctic countries such as Denmark and Canada.

Admiral Yevmenov’s strong interest in the Arctic could have stemmed from his stint as the commander of the Russian Northern Fleet between 2015- 2019. During this period, Yevmenov led the expansion of Russia’s military capacities in the Arctic, acquiring new submarines and surface combat vessels for the Northern Fleet based in the Kola Peninsula.

Yemenov pledged navy’s support for the operation of the Russia’s Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a strategic national traffic artery. At the Arctic Forum, Sergey Zybko, head of the NSR operator, announced that year-round LNG deliveries to Asia via the route would begin next year.

“Starting from January, gas carriers will move under icebreaker support, including during those months they never sailed before - March, April and May. This will mean year-round navigation,” said Zybko.

Historically, navigation along the NSR usually starts in June and is halted in December due to thick ice. During this period, Russian LNG deliveries are routed to the west, primarily for European customers.