While the world's attention was distracted by his incursions into Eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin quietly made another provocative move that could lead to a direct confrontation with the United States. The Russian Navy sent a ship to remote Wrangel Island, planted a Russian naval flag on August 20, and announced plans to build a naval base there for Russia's Pacific Fleet.
Wrangel Island is a frozen, nearly uninhabited island in the Arctic Ocean, about 90 miles north of Siberia and 300 miles northwest of Point Hope, Alaska. It's about the size of our two smallest states, Delaware and Rhode Island, combined.
Wrangel Island has little economic value in itself, but it is hugely important because it is the closest land to a vast swath of the Arctic Ocean, which is estimated to hold 25 percent of the world's recoverable oil and gas. According to a European reporter, Putin has said he wants to expand Russia's presence in the Arctic, both militarily and economically.
It's not the first time that Russia has planted a flag to claim territory in the Arctic, hoping to extend its control over that resource-rich region. In August 2007, a Russian submarine planted a Russian flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole.
When the Canadian foreign minister expostulated that Russia could not expect to claim territory under rules of "the 15th century," the Russian Foreign Minister cited a more recent precedent: "Whenever explorers reach some sort of point that no one else has explored, they plant a flag," he said. "That's how it was on the moon, by the way."
Yes, the United States did plant a flag on the moon on July 21, 1969. Planting the American flag was Neil Armstrong's first task after taking that "one small step" which was a "giant leap for mankind." The sight of that flag, beamed back to earth, was rendered sweeter because many so-called experts had predicted that the Russians would get there first.
Americans beat the Russians to the North Pole, too. On April 6, 1909, Adm. Robert Peary, after an arduous expedition with dogs and sleds over hundreds of miles of ice, triumphantly wrote: "I have this day hoisted the national ensign of the United States of America at this place, which my observations indicate to be the North Polar axis of the earth, and have formally taken possession of the entire region, and adjacent, for and in the name of the President of the United States of America." Peary's claim was reaffirmed when our first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, reached the Pole on Aug. 3, 1958.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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