Ownership of the arctic has always been controversial among the countries with borders at the top of our planet. Recently, with the steady increase in temperatures due to global warming, the arctic has opened up. This allows trading vessels easier passage as well as access to the previously hidden mineral resources of the arctic.
Russia has already staked a claim, more symbolic than anything, by place a metal Russian flag 2 miles under the ice of the arctic. This is similar to how America planted a flag on the moon; just because its there doesn’t mean it belongs to us. As it stands right now, no one truly owns the arctic. It is governed by the United Nations Convention on Law of The Seas, or UNCLOS. This set of international law laid out in 1982 controls who can do what in the arctic. It established that it is indeed a free travel zone not controlled by any one government. The other major part of UNCLOS is that each nation that has a border with the arctic (US, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Finland) as 200 miles of exclusive economic zone. Meaning they control that portion of ocean and everything under it. With the ice melting many of these nations want to further expand this area of economic exclusivity.
Because the ice made travel by ship difficult not many vessels traveled the Northern Sea Route or NSR. Now that ice is shifting and not blocking the route, many more cargo vessels are taking the NSR (blue) instead of the Suez canal route (red)
While I doubt this conflict has any chance of escalating past a verbal and diplomatic one, the chance is still there. With resources like oil and natural gas running low and becoming ever more expensive, the treasure trove that is the arctic is desired by many nations who have a chance at attaining the riches it presents. This growing conflict needs to be monitored carefully to ensure that no physical actions are taken that could result in war.