07:09 GMT +3 hours28 November 2014
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Russia guided by international law in its polar shelf probe - 1

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Russia is guided by international law in its polar shelf probes, the country's foreign minister told a news conference Friday.

MANILA, August 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is guided by international law in its polar shelf probes, the country's foreign minister told a news conference Friday.

"When explorers reach an unexplored point they leave flags there," Sergei Lavrov said, commenting on Thursday's probe into the North Pole shelf where Russian researchers left a flag. "No one is throwing flags around."

Canada, which has claimed part of the Arctic shelf since 1925, came down on Russia's expedition, saying Russia sets up shelf borders using 15th century methods. Ottawa said Russia's tactics resemble the Great Geographical Discoveries epoch and have nothing to do with modern politics.

Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay told Canadian Television CTV: "Look, this isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say 'We're claiming this territory.'"

Lavrov said the ownership of the shelf in the North Pole is defined on the basis of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"As for the legal side of the matter, this expedition is part of important work being conducted on the basis of the Law of the Sea Convention," he said.

Russian explorers dove 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) below the North Pole in two mini-submarines Thursday, planting a titanium Russian flag on the seabed in a symbolic claim to a vast slice of apparently hydrocarbon-rich Arctic territory, which the country said is the continuation of its continental shelf.

Americans, who planted their flag on the Moon in 1969, also did not appreciate Russia's move to leave its flag on the Arctic Ocean floor.

"I'm not sure whether they put a metal flag, a rubber flag, or a bed sheet on the ocean floor," Tom Casey, deputy State Department spokesman, told reporters. "Either way, it doesn't have any legal standing or effect on this claim... It's an issue that's going to be decided based on those technical merits, not on any kind of particular markers laid down."

Casey said the United States was skeptical about Russia's claim to 1.2 million square kilometers (about 460,000 square miles) of territory - the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleyev Ridges that cross the Pole - but admitted the country was within its rights to pursue the claim.

"...the Russian Government is pursuing a claim under their right to do so as members of the Law of the Sea Convention. This is something that unfortunately, the United States is not in a position to do because we have yet to ratify that convention and it's one of the reasons why we are interested and supportive of having that treaty be ratified by the U.S. Senate," Casey said.

He said it was a technical issue and the U.S. had not had an opportunity to look at technical data provided by Russia to back its claim, which was "another reason why we'd like to be engaged" in those kinds of bodies.

Russia made a claim to the territory in 2001. The following year, a UN panel demanded more scientific evidence pending a decision.

Sergei Lavrov, speaking from the Philippines Thursday, said: "The goal of this expedition is not to stake Russia's claim, but to prove that our shelf spreads to the North Pole." The minister said he hoped the expedition would "allow us to acquire additional scientific proof" of this claim.

Apart from being a publicity stunt, the more than eight-hour Arctic mission was designed to take soil, water and fauna samples on the ocean floor.

As climate change melts the polar ice, vast reserves of oil and gas believed to be under the seafloor are likely to become accessible in future decades.