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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Pole Explorers Land Back in Moscow

Itar-TassArtur Chilingarov, carrying a stuffed polar bear, leading members of a North Pole expedition group out of Vnukovo Airport on Tuesday. Story, Page 3.
A team of explorers who became the first to reach the seabed at the North Pole last week returned to Moscow by plane Tuesday in a triumphant and defiant mood.

The expedition was part of Russia's attempts to strengthen its claims to a large area of resource-rich underwater Arctic territory.

"The Arctic has always been Russian," Artur Chilingarov, the United Russia State Duma deputy and presidential Arctic envoy who led the two-week expedition, said in televised comments at Vnukovo Airport on Tuesday.

"And I don't give a damn if people outside the country are voicing their dissatisfaction," he added.

"It's comforting to know that today's generation of polar explorers is worthily continuing the glorious traditions of the heroic Arctic pioneers," President Vladimir Putin said to the team in a telegram, excerpts of which were posted on the Kremlin's web site.

Putin later met with Chilingarov and underlined the need for international recognition of Russia's claims.

"The expedition was a great success, but we are only halfway," said Sergei Balasnikov, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg-based Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.

Balasnikov said a follow-up expedition would begin Aug. 27 to collect samples from the Arctic seabed.

First Deputy Mayor Yury Roslyak, City Duma Chairman Vladimir Platonov, State Duma Deputy Oleg Morozov and a sea of pro-Kremlin youth activists met the members of the expedition at the airport.

The activists shouted slogans such as "No step back, only forward, now the Russian people are in the Arctic!"

A submarine skippered by Chilingarov dropped a rustproof Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole on Thursday in a symbolic gesture that Moscow sees as the first step in claiming a large chunk of the Arctic region -- and the immense natural resource deposits that come with it.

Russia maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater shelf that runs through the Arctic, is connected to its continental shelf, and is thus part of its offshore territory. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised last week that Russia's claims would be pursued through international legal channels.

Currently, no country has exclusive jurisdiction over the Arctic. Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States each control a 320-kilometer economic zone beyond their shores.

Some countries have criticized Russia's claims.

Last week, Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay likened Russia's moves to the land grabs of the 15th century, while a U.S. State Department spokesman said the flag planting "didn't have any legal standing or effect on this claim."

Chilingarov and a number of other members of the trip to the pole left the research vessel Akademik Fyodorov, which was joined on the expedition by the nuclear icebreaker Rossia, by helicopter Monday. They landed on the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen, where they boarded the flight to Moscow on Tuesday.