MOSCOW -- The United States and Canada have scoffed at a submarine expedition
that planted a Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole.
Coming home to a hero's welcome Tuesday, the famous Russian polar scientist
who led the risky voyage did not mince words in responding. "I don't give
a damn what all these foreign politicians there are saying about this,"
Artur Chilingarov told a throng of well-wishers.
"If someone doesn't like this, let them go down themselves...and then
try to put something there. Russia must win."
"Russia has what it takes to win. The Arctic has always been Russian."
Thursday's dive by two small submarines was partly a scientific expedition.
But it could mark the start of a fierce legal scramble for control of the seabed
- and what could be vast energy reserves beneath - among nations that border
the Arctic, including Russia, the U.S., Canada, Norway and Denmark, through
its territory Greenland.
The United States promptly dismissed the Russian move as legally meaningless
whether it planted "a metal flag, a rubber flag or a bedsheet."
Canadian Foreign Minister Peter Mackay said the voyage was "just a show"
and Russia could not expect to claim territory under the rules of "the
But in Russia, the tone of television reports have been triumphant since the
submarines planted the titanium flag on the Arctic Ocean floor.
Chilingarov, who became a Soviet hero in the 1980s after successfully leading
an expedition aboard a research vessel that was trapped for a time in Antarctic
sea ice, was shown brandishing the Russian tricolour and spraying champagne
from a huge bottle. Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly telephoned the
crew to offer his congratulations.
Officials said the expedition was more about gathering evidence for the case
Russia hopes to make for ownership of the Lomonosov Ridge, a 2,000-kilometre
underwater mountain range that crosses the polar region. A UN commission, which
has rejected Moscow's claims in the past, will ultimately make the decision.
Canada answered the Russian move with a clear message, highlighting plans to
spend up to C$7.5 billion to build and operate eight patrol ships to help protect
its sovereignty in the Arctic.
Western reaction to the Arctic voyage "is nothing but the latest attempt
to put Russia in its place," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Kremlin-connected
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained the flag-planting with a precedent
vividly etched in the modern imagination.
"Whenever explorers reach some sort of point that no one else has explored,
they plant a flag," he said.
"That's how it was on the moon, by the way."