MOSCOW, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday Russia's future was not in the west, where Ukraine is battling separatist forces, but in the Arctic.
Speaking at a youth camp near Moscow, Putin compared Ukrainian military forces to Nazis -- a reference to how the notorious German troops stormed Soviet Union towns during World War II -- then indicated the next standoff could be in the Arctic.
"Our interests are concentrated in the Arctic. And of course we should pay more attention to issues of development of the Arctic and the strengthening of our position," Putin said.
His interest is in the area above the Arctic Circle, where the Soviet Union laid claim to oil and gas reserves that are becoming accessible due to melting ice caps. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated 22 percent of the world's undiscovered and recoverable mineral resources are located there, and the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea permits the seven countries with Arctic coastlines to claim natural resources 200 miles beyond their coasts.
With the ice melting and the feasibility of a heretofore-impossible "Northwest Passage," which Russia calls the Northern Sea Route, Russia's northern coast could soon become a crucial international shipping route. The route would cut shipping time between eastern Asia and western Europe by a third.
Much of Russia's naval fleet, including submarines, are stationed in the Arctic.
In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a flag on the floor of the ocean, 14,000 feet below the North Pole, an attempted claim to 460,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf's gas and oil reserves. The stunt was condemned by Canada, Russia's chief competitor in the Arctic.
This isn't the 15th century," Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said. "You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say 'We're claiming this territory.'"
There are indications Canada and Norway are, militarily, paying more attention to the Arctic region, and although Putin has repeatedly said Russia would act in accordance with international law regarding arctic claims, the crisis in Ukraine has made other world leaders wonder of his sincerity.