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As ice caps melt, Russia stakes its claim to oil-rich Arctic

Thursday Russians planted a titanium flag in the seabed of 'yellow muck' nearly three miles beneath the surface.

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It's an achievement comparable to landing on the moon, Russian commentators insist.

Four Russian and two foreign explorers aboard a pair of deep-sea submersibles made an unprecedented journey Thursday to probe the remote seabed beneath the North Pole.

To symbolize Moscow's claim to the polar territory and all its resources, they planted a tricolor Russian flag made of titanium in the "yellow muck" nearly three miles down, before returning safely to the small fleet of research ships on the icebound surface.

"The landing was smooth, the yellowish mud is around us, no sea creatures are visible," expedition leader Artur Chilingarov signaled from one of the Mir minisubs, according to the official ITAR-Tass agency.

Before making the dive, Mr. Chilingarov, Russia's most famous Arctic explorer and a deputy speaker of parliament, made clear that the effort is not just about expanding the horizons of science. "We are here to define the outer limit of Russia's territory," he said.

Also along for the ride were Australian Michael McDowell, described by Russian media as a researcher, and Swedish pharmaceutical tycoon Frederik Paulsen, who reportedly helped to finance the Russian expedition.

"This is a serious and risky operation," Sergei Balyasnikov, press spokesman for the St. Petersburg-based Arctic Research Institute, told the official RIA-Novosti agency. "It is an extremely important act for Russia ... like raising a flag on the Moon."

As milder temperatures make exploration of the Arctic seafloor possible for the first time, Russia's biggest-ever polar mission appears to have beaten all potential rivals in the race to stake out a claim at the Earth's cap. The rock samples and other data gathered by the subs will be used to support Russia's claim to own 460,000 square miles of hitherto international territory – an area larger than France and Germany combined in a region estimated to contain 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

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