“We do not give up the North Pole. Canada’s claims to the North Pole are no more than ambition.” So declared Russian polar explorer and scientist Artur Chilingarov on December 11, whom President Vladimir Putin named a “Hero of Russia” after he famously planted his country’s flag on the seabed underneath the North Pole in 2007.
Chilingarov was reacting to Canada’s announcement earlier this month of its partial submission of claims to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) and intention to eventually expand its claims to include the North Pole. John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced to reporters, “We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole…What we want to do is claim the biggest geographic area possible for Canada.”
For years now, Russian scientists and officials have been trying to do the same thing. In 2007, before descending in the submersible to the Arctic sea floor, Chilingarov remarked, “The Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf.” Thus it appears somewhere between his statements in 2007 and 2013, the North Pole became a part of Russia, since he is now saying that the country won’t “give [it] up.” Whether or not there is a scientific basis for the North Pole to form part of the Russian continental shelf, it has long been a part of the imagined territory of Russia, and indeed the USSR, which claimed the area extending from Russia’s northern coast all the way up to the North Pole .
So why are Canada and Russia seeking to claim the North Pole?