By NBF News

Russia made its ambitions clear by planting a flag beneath the North Pole

An international meeting to try to prevent the Arctic becoming the next battleground over mineral wealth has begun in Moscow.

One quarter of the world's resources of oil and gas are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Ocean.

Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark and the United States have already laid claim to territory in the region.

Some 300 delegates will discuss co-operation but are also likely to push their claims to the Arctic's riches.

The region's resources are rapidly becoming accessible due to the dramatic shrinking of the polar ice cap.

The race for the Arctic centres on an underwater mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge.

In 2001, Moscow submitted a territorial claim to the United Nations which was rejected because of lack of evidence.

Three years ago, a Russian expedition planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole in a symbolic gesture of Moscow's ambitions.

Canada and Denmark are also planning to submit separate files to the UN.

Law of the Sea
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I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive'

Lev Voronkov
Russian Arctic expert
As evidence of the gathering momentum in the race for mineral resources, Russia has announced it will spend $64m (£40m; 48m euros) on research aimed at proving its case.

Last week, Canada's foreign minister met his Russian counterpart in Moscow to discuss their competing claims.

Canada said it was confident its case would prevail.

Two days earlier, Russia signed a treaty with Norway, ending a 40-year dispute over their maritime borders in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.

Moscow said the prospects for oil and gas exploration were significant either side of the border.

For the states involved in the territorial dispute, the key lies in obtaining scientific proof that the Lomonosov Ridge is an underwater extension of their continental shelf.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal nation can claim exclusive economic rights to natural resources on or beneath the sea floor up to 200 nautical miles (370km) beyond their land territory.

But if the continental shelf extends beyond that distance, the country must provide evidence to a UN commission which will then make recommendations about establishing an outer limit.

Despite the evident scramble for territorial rights, Moscow has said it has no immediate plans for development and has had emphasised the need for international cooperation.

Russian Arctic expert Lev Voronkov said the experience of the Cold War proved the need to work together.

“No one problem of contemporary Arctic can be resolved by one country alone. So that's why I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive.”