MOSCOW Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged Arctic nations on Thursday to cut a deal on how to explore the region's rich mineral resources, and dismissed dire warnings of looming battles over its oil and gas wealth.
Arctic nations Canada, Russia, Norway, the United States and Denmark are racing to file territorial claims over oil, gas and precious metal reserves that are looking more accessible as the Arctic ice cap shrinks.
"Serious political and economic interests are indeed crossing over in the Arctic. But I have no doubt that problems, including the continental shelf problem, can be solved in the spirit of partnership," Putin told an Arctic forum in Moscow.
"It is well known that it is difficult to survive in the Arctic on your own. Nature itself makes people, nations and states help each other there," he said.
By international law, the five countries have a 320 km (200 mile) economic zone north of their Arctic borders, but Russia wants more, claiming the Arctic Ocean seafloor is an extension of its continental shelf.
Graphic on Arctic boundaries link.reuters.com/qyf94p
Russia, currently the world's top energy supplier, believes its entire Arctic territory holds twice as much oil and gas reserves as Saudi Arabia today.
Kremlin adviser Alexander Bedritsky told a conference on Wednesday that though the Arctic accounts for just 1.5 percent of Russia's population, it represents 11 percent of its economy and 22 percent of exports.
A Russian mini-submersible in 2007 planted a rust-proof Russian flag on the Arctic seafloor, prompting international fears that the former Cold War power was preparing to back its territorial claims by force.
On Thursday Putin played down such fears: "Unfortunately we are faced with alarmist predictions of a looming battle for the Arctic. We are monitoring the situation and making responsible forecasts," he said.
Putin, who travelled north of the Arctic Circle last month, said the Arctic border deal signed by Russia and Norway last week, as well as work on an international search and rescue treaty, were examples of peaceful cooperation.
"Declarations from Russia, Canada, and other countries in 2007-08 concerning the need for an increased military presence in the Arctic no longer seem relevant," Dmitry Trenin, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow, wrote in a research note on Thursday.
Russian Deputy Natural Resources Minister Igor Maidanov told the forum Russia wanted to invest over $312.8 billion in exploring the continental shelf between now and 2039 and said most of this money will go to the Arctic.
Maidanov promised new tax breaks for Arctic hydrocarbon deposits, which are already exempt from the mineral extraction tax. He said a lower export duty modeled on East Siberian fields breaks was possible.
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