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The Arctic

Russia’s plan for the world’s newest ocean

There’s a new ocean at the top of our globe. In just the past three decades, global warming has shrunk the size of the Arctic Ocean’s summer ice by half. The region is now more accessible than it’s been in 1,000 years, and governments around the world have taken notice.

The melting of the Arctic has grave implications for global weather patterns and rising sea levels, and most of the world sees it as a looming disaster. But for the five Arctic nations — the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia — it also presents an opportunity: access to promising new trade routes and untapped fossil fuel resources.

Each country has jurisdiction to exploit the natural resources within 200 nautical miles of its coast, an “exclusive economic zone.” They can reach beyond that distance if the submerged part of their land, their continental shelf, extends beyond the 200 nautical miles. Countries make claims based on where they argue the edges of their continental shelves are. Problems arise when claims overlap, as they do in multiple cases here.

To witness the new Arctic geopolitics with my own eyes, I traveled to Svalbard, a set of Norwegian islands that houses the northernmost diplomatic consulate in the world. That consulate belongs to the country that has made the most aggressive moves in the region, a country that has planted a flag at the bottom of the sea and built up dozens of Arctic military assets: Russia.

In the Arctic, Russia has the most to gain as the ice melts. As I journeyed through the region, I saw just how far Russia is willing to go to secure influence in this new frontier: