Sovereignty Matters in the Arctic - Wrangel Island: A Russo-American Crisis in the Making?

Posted: 7 Jan 2015 Last revised: 13 Nov 2019

See all articles by D. Dimitrakos

D. Dimitrakos

University of the Pacific | McGeorge School of Law; Independent

Date Written: January 5, 2015


Starting with a brief review of the 1996 Greco-Turkish Aegean Sea crisis which almost culminated in war, and drawing analogies therefrom, the author examines the potentially fragile maritime boundary delimitation regime between USA and Russia in the Arctic, including some territorial sovereignty claims over islands in the region. The article visits the historical legal background of maritime boundary delimitation between the US and Russia in the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea and the Northern Pacific. The legal history of maritime delimitation between the two nations in that region dates as far back as the 1867 Treaty between the USA and the Russian Empire. That treaty came to be popularly known as the "Alaska purchase treaty". The legal history of maritime delimitation between the two states in the area includes, inter alia, bilateral negotiations in the latter half of the twentieth century aiming at addressing discrepancies in the interpretation and implementation of that treaty, between the two states. Those negotiations resulted in the signing of the "1990 Agreement on maritime boundary" between the US and the USSR. The US Senate advised and consented to its ratification; The USSR (and Russia, in its capacity as USSR's successor state following USSR's disintegration) has not taken any action towards ratification. Nevertheless, the 1990 Agreement has, since its signature, effectively entered into provisional force by virtue of an exchange of letters between the US and USSR which provides for the interim implementation of the 1990 Agreement pending its entry into force. The author goes on to analyze the articles of the 1990 Agreement, including the interesting provisions of Article 3 which creates "special areas" for both states, as well as the application of the customary international law of the sea as pertains and correlates to the Agreement. He further notes the potentially unstable regime between the two neighboring superpowers and concludes that cooperation within the scope of international institutions should be strengthened in order to minimize the possibility for conflict like that of 1996 between Greece and Turkey.

Keywords: sovereignty law, law of the sea, law of treaties, law of the sea convention, UNCLOS, maritime boundaries, Russo-American maritime boundary, maritime boundary convention, USA-Russia maritime boundary, Alaska treaty, Alaska maritime boundary, Wrangel, Imia, Kardak

Suggested Citation

Dimitrakos, Dimitrios, Sovereignty Matters in the Arctic - Wrangel Island: A Russo-American Crisis in the Making? (January 5, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Dimitrios Dimitrakos (Contact Author)

University of the Pacific | McGeorge School of Law ( email )

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Independent ( email )

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