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Ilulissat, Greenland, will go down in history as the polar
Ilulissat, Greenland, will go down in history as the polar city where the ice moved for the first time - foreign ministers and other representatives of the five Arctic nations - Denmark (Greenland is its province), Canada, Norway, Russia, and the United States met there on May 27-29 to discuss a legal division of the Arctic.

It seems they have agreed on how to divide the Arctic Ocean, and, most important, its mineral-rich continental shelf.

The meeting produced the Ilulissat Declaration, which makes it plain that there is no need to draft a separate international agreement - in settling territorial and other problems the participants will be guided by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Speaking at the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We do not share the alarming predictions about a clash of interests between Arctic and even non-Arctic countries, about a 'battle for the Arctic.'" Other ministers spoke in much the same vein.

It is a good sign that talks will precede the cutting of the Arctic pie. The Convention on the Law of the Sea is a powerful document of international law, almost a maritime constitution. It regulates what can and cannot be done on and with the ocean. But it is perhaps alarming that the participants in the conference are unanimously optimistic. All of them have grievances with their neighbors, or are displeased about the ocean's demarcation. Moreover, interests invariably clash when it comes to dividing no-man's-lands or marine basins that abound in mineral riches.

Denmark has long-running quarrel with Canada over the latter's planting of its flags in Greenland; Canada has been squabbling with America for the same reason; Norway claims almost 175,000 km of Russia's shelf; and Russia has not yet reached final agreement with the United States on the Shevardnadze-Baker line in the north Pacific. Let's recall that the Arctic has never seen a "civilized" approach to its problems.

Nor was it displayed at the conference. Apart from the Ilulissat Five, the Arctic Council, which deals with northern problems, includes Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. But much to their chagrin, they were not even invited.

Environmental organizations were even angrier. Their reaction deserves special mention. The ministers can be praised later on if their optimism is vindicated. For many years, environmental organizations have lashed out at ministers of all states, often upsetting the diplomatic status quo and forcing ministers to search for more imaginative solutions. This promotes a search for compromise.

Leading environmentalist and conservationist organizations view the conference as all but a "conspiracy on the Arctic's secret division." That may be an exaggeration, but they certainly have the right to ask how the participants in the meeting were chosen. The United States has not even ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and can ignore it altogether. Also, why shouldn't we leave both poles of the planet alone? The Antarctic has long been protected by an international ban on any military activities and development of mineral deposits. What makes it so difficult to extend that ban to the Arctic? That may sound like a naive question, because the answer is obvious - oil, gas, nickel, and gold.

Having ratified the convention in 1997, Russia agreed with its limitations - up to 350 miles BEYOND its economic zone if it is proved that the continental shelf is part of the Siberian continental plate.

There is no point in Russia getting to the North Pole, unless someone wants to waste more government money. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic's main oil and gas deposits lie within 300-500 nautical miles of the shores. The biggest of them lie in Russian sections of the Kara and Barents seas.

The Arctic should be divided in a smart and calm way. Heroic raids like last year's Artur Chilingarov expedition are absolutely pointless, no matter how many buckets of mud are raised or how many flags are planted on the seabed under the North Pole. In order to prove that the underwater Lomonosov Ridge continues the Siberian continental plate, we must drill to depths of two, three, and four kilometers.

We still have time to work on our claim to the shelf. A final decision on the Arctic's partition will be made by a UN conference in 2020. But we should work seriously to gather the evidence to support our case and protect our interests, rather than conquer the Arctic again with flags and fanfares.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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