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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Russia returns to Arctic

Russia has marked its return to the Arctic after a 12-year absence by raising its national flag at a polar research station.

Polar explorers hoist the Russian flag (image: Russian TV)
The Russian team said it was there to stay

A group of 12 scientists, led by polar explorer and parliamentarian Artur Chilingarov, have set up camp on an ice floe about 150 km from the North Pole. They have named it North Pole-32.

The experts plan to spend the next six months studying the Arctic environment, continuing a long history of polar scientific research, which began in 1937.

The resumption of permanent monitoring in the Arctic will provide important information for weather forecasting in mainland Russia. It will also assist ships which navigate the northern sea routes.

Moreover, the team hopes to assess mineral reserves on the Arctic shelf, according to a report by Russian television.

Polar dream

Mr Chilingarov sees Russia's return to polar research as an essential development for the country.

"This is our Arctic, this is the Russian Arctic and the Russian flag should be here," he said proudly after firing a pistol into the air to celebrate what he saw as a historic moment.

Mr Chilingarov launches the expedition (image: Russian TV)
It is very important that after a break of 12 years, Russian scientists return to the North Pole
President Vladimir Putin

The deputy chairman of Russia's parliament said he understood the polar research project was "politically important" and that it was also an "educational and patriotic objective".

He said he hoped the work of his team would inspire other Russians to pursue polar research.

"Let people dream not only of being managers, let's have as many people as possible becoming polar explorers," he said.

Mr Chilingarov's passionate appeal comes as no surprise as he is also president of the Association of Russian Polar Explorers.

The head of the North Pole-32 research station, Vladimir Koshelev, shares Mr Chilingarov's enthusiasm for their work.

"We spent a long time getting to this point but... it was a huge joy," he said.

"You see, this is our work, and we know how to do this and we know how to do it pretty well."

Mr Koshelev added that as Russia was a northern country, Russians had a natural sympathy for life in the Arctic.

Here to stay

The polar expedition has also attracted praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It is very important that after a break of 12 years, Russian scientists return to the North Pole to continue the remarkable traditions of the legendary polar explorers," the president told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Mr Putin added that the expedition would have "great significance for the development of science", which would yield many "practical results" for the modern world.

As the scientists set to work, Mr Chilingarov must hope that this project does not share the fate of a previous venture. Russia was forced to suspend Arctic missions in 1991 when an ice floe carrying Russia's 31st polar expedition broke up after becoming caught in a warm stream.

Mr Chilingarov seemed confident that this mission would be a success.

"We're not going anywhere," he said from his ice floe.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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