Russia 'resumes patrols' in disputed Arctic waters


Russia's navy said today it had resumed patrols in disputed waters around the Arctic Ocean archipelago of Svalbard, where Russia and Norway have clashed over rich fishing rights.

The navy said it had already sent an anti-submarine ship into the disputed waters around the archipelago, known by Russians as Spitzbergen, and said it would soon send a cruiser.

Russia has been keen to underline its growing clout by expanding the reach of its military and staking claim to the mineral and fishing wealth of the Arctic.

Russian fishermen had asked the navy to protect them after a series of clashes over recent years between Russian trawlers and the Norwegian navy, which accuses them of illegal fishing.

Under a 1920 treaty, Svalbard was placed under Norwegian sovereignty, but other signatories were allowed to exploit some land-based resources.

Russia says it has a right to fish in waters almost up to the coast, but Norway in 1977 unilaterally established a 200-mile fisheries zone around Svalbard that Russia does not recognise.

In 2006 a Norwegian coastguard boat chased a Russian trawler across the Arctic Ocean for six days before it escaped into Russian waters. The Norwegians had accused the Elektronof fishing illegally, an accusation it denied.

Russia is in a race with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States to control the giant reserves of oil, gas and precious metals that would become more accessible if global warming shrinks the Arctic ice cap.