Russia#039;s Putin puttin#039; the moves on beneath the Arctic

When a small submarine planted the white, blue and red flag of the Russian Federation 14,000 feet beneath the polar ice cap this summer, it became painfully obvious the US has focused too much foreign policy in the wrong direction.,The Cold War is history, but it’s getting chilly again between Russia and Western powers.

When a small submarine planted the white, blue and red flag of the Russian Federation 14,000 feet beneath the polar ice cap this summer, it became painfully obvious the US has focused too much foreign policy in the wrong direction.

America is hunkered down in Iraq and yet, at the same time, military advisors are threatening Iran over uranium processing.

But the US has largely ignored Russia-the sleeping giant to Iran’s north-where President Vladimir Putin has not only rolled the veil of power over democracy, but also challenged the Western powers through petty flag planting.

Or it would be petty, if much-sought-after petroleum and natural gas were not part of the equation.

A 2000 report from the U.S. Geological Survey predicted as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves are tucked away in the Arctic.

As oil prices skyrocket (more than doubling since 2001 according to Energy Information Administration figures), it’s a worthy target for petrol-hungry nations.

Russia, with Putin at the helm, would benefit economically from the polar oil. A June 2007 World Bank Report listed rising oil prices as a major contributor in Russia’s expanding economy.

Likewise, a British Petroleum report released this year estimated 6.6 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves lie beneath Russia’s tremendous land area.

The US, by comparison, only has 2.5 percent of the world’s known reserves.

Russia won an intolerably symbolic victory by planting its colors on the barren, unclaimed ocean floor-as a major media event in Moscow-like an underwater moon landing.

But the Arctic is not a petroleum buffet for flag-planters. The nations vying for a slice of the pole thanks to their polar proximity-Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia–are bound by 1994 international law: the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea.

The US, in poorly-planned policy move, refused to ratify on the grounds that it would impede America’s sovereignty on the world’s oceans, including the North Pole.

The convention grants nations who ratify it a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around their coasts, letting them exploit the resources within this area.

The economic zone, however, can be expanded if a nation proves to a U.N. commission that its continental shelf continues beyond the zone.

Russia tried this in 2001, seeking a significant chunk of the Arctic including the physical North Pole. The claim was denied, but the Russian government said it’s still convinced the undersea ridge which crosses the pole is connected to its continental shelf.

Unlike Bush’s more loud-mouthed antagonists, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Putin controls one of the world’s larger economies, with a gross domestic product of $986 billion in 2006 by World Bank figures.

The former KGB officer has helped the ailing nation make a phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes of the former Soviet Union. According to the World Bank, Russia’s GDP has grown at a nearly 7 percent rate every year since 2003.

But Putin’s regime has a scarier side which dwarfs all economic progress and manifests in what the U.S. State Department calls “uneven” regard for human rights and press freedoms.

Russia, despite maintaining diplomatic ties with the US, also aligns itself with America’s enemies, including Iran and Syria-nations the US accuses of funding and harboring terrorists.

Russia also signed several arms deals with Iran to provide 250 long-range fighter planes and a missile defense system for Tehran-all worth billions of dollars.

That is not exactly the mark of a strong, dependable American ally.

Of course, the US failed to work with Russia on a solution to the Arctic issue.

America cannot define the bulk of its foreign policy on military endeavors in the Middle East. According to Pentagon figures published in The Washington Post on Aug. 29, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost a combined $400 billion.

Instead, America should work with its polar neighbors to find a binding, diplomatic solution to the Arctic question before this situation snowballs into a new, colder war.

If the Bush administration lets Putin stand on the North Pole for ever, the ice will melt beneath his feet.