Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to Canada's plans to extend its Arctic territorial claim by calling on his military to devote 'special attention' to the region.
Earlier this week, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed a submission to the United Nations claiming 1.2 million square kilometres of seabed under the Atlantic, along with a preliminary claim relating to the Arctic Ocean.
In response Mr Putin told a defence ministry meeting that he wished to see the military bolster its presence in the territory. “I would like you to devote special attention to deploying infrastructure and military units in the Arctic,” the Kremlin chief said in remarks made at the meeting and reported by AP.
He emphasised the importance of the Soviet-era base at the New Siberian Islands, which the military started to overhaul this year. Russian officials have described the facility as key for protecting shipping routes that link Europe with the Pacific region across the Arctic Ocean.
The area is of both environmental and financial importance. The US Geological Survey believes it could hold up to 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil.
It is thought the territory could also have as much as 30% of the world's hidden natural gas reserves.
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.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the military next year will form a dedicated group of forces in the Arctic to protect Russia's national interests in the region.
Shoigu added that the Russian armed forces would also work to expand their presence elsewhere.
According to AFP the increasingly acrimonious row prompted a bizarre exchange in the Canadian parliament in which Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister cited the claim on the North Pole in order to attack an opposition party.
"We are defending the north further by making a claim on the North Pole," he said.
"We know that the (opposition) Liberals do not think that the North Pole or Santa Claus are in Canada. We do. We are going to make sure that we protect them as best we can."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reportedly agreed citing the fact that Santa's address has a Canadian post code.
Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic.