MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin pledged Thursday that Russia will expand its presence in the Arctic, adding that work is under way to restore a major Soviet-era military base there.
Speaking at a meeting with activists of the main Kremlin party, United Russia, Putin said the Arctic region is essential for Russia's economic and security interests.
Putin said the Russian military has been restoring a Soviet-era military base on the New Siberian Islands that was shut down after the Soviet collapse. He added that the facility is key for protecting shipping routes that link Europe with the Pacific region across the Arctic Ocean.
Last month, a Russian navy squadron led by the flagship of Russia's Northern Fleet, nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, visited the archipelago, which occupies a strategic position on the Arctic shipping route.
Putin said that the military has already re-established a permanent garrison there and will restore an airfield and other facilities.
He angrily dismissed suggestions that the Arctic should be placed under the jurisdiction of the international community.
"The Arctic is an unalienable part of the Russian Federation that has been under our sovereignty for a few centuries," Putin said. "And it will be so for the time to come."
Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the planet's undiscovered oil and gas.
With shrinking polar ice opening up new opportunities for exploration, Russia, Canada and Denmark have said they will file claims with the United Nations that the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea 1,200-mile (2,000-kilometer) mountain range crossing the polar region, is an extension of their respective territories.
Russia first submitted its claim to the United Nations in 2001, but it was sent back for lack of evidence and Moscow said it would resubmit the claim after collecting more scientific data.
In 2007 Russia staked a symbolic claim to the Arctic seabed by dropping a canister containing the Russian flag on the ocean floor from a small submarine at the North Pole.
In a signal that it won't tolerate any attempts to put obstacles in the way of its plans to tap into Arctic resources, Russia has filed piracy charges against the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace ship who protested at a Russian oil platform in the Arctic.