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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Submarines Set to Dive to North Pole Seabed

An expedition aimed at strengthening Russia's claim to much of the Arctic Ocean region reached the North Pole on Wednesday afternoon, as preparations began for two mini-submarines to drop a capsule containing a Russian flag to the sea floor, a spokesman said.

The Rossia atomic icebreaker had plowed a path to the pole through an unbroken sheet of multiyear ice, clearing the way for the Akademik Fyodorov research ship to follow behind, said Sergei Balyasnikov, a spokesman for the Arctic and Antarctic research institute that prepared the expedition.

The voyage, led by noted polar explorer and State Duma Deputy Speaker Artur Chilingarov, has some scientific goals, including the study of Arctic plants and animals. But its chief aim appears to be to advance Russia's political and economic influence by strengthening its legal claims to the gas and oil deposits thought to lie beneath the Arctic sea floor.

"I think that one of the tasks, at least for public consumption, is to put a claim and enlarge our territory by achieving the recognition of the Arctic shelf as a continuation of Russia's Eurasian part," Sergei Pryamikov, director of the international department of the St. Petersburg-based institute, told Rossia television.

Scientists were planning to dive in two mini-submarines beneath the pole to a depth of more than 4,000 meters, and to drop a metal capsule containing the Russian flag on the seabed. Balyasnikov said the dive was expected to begin on Thursday morning and last for several hours.