Russia’s President Vladimir Putin described the Arctic region, which is estimated to hold 13 per cent of the world’s yet untapped energy reserves, as essential for Russia's economic and security interests.

Russia has announced the start of offshore oil production in the Arctic, upstaging its Western rivals in the rush for the region’s energy riches.

Russia’s natural gas monopoly Gazprom said Friday it had begun pumping oil at its first Arctic offshore platform at the Prirazlomnoye field in the Pechora Sea.

Gazprom became the first company in the world to launch commercial production of oil from under the Arctic waters. Royal Dutch Shell last year abandoned its first attempt to probe Artic deposits, suspending drilling for oil off Alaska coast.

“We are pioneers in the development of Russia’s Arctic shelf,” said Alexei Miller, CEO of Gazprom.

The half-a-million tonne Prirazlomnoye platform is also the first Arctic-class ice-resistant oil rig in the world, which firmly sits the seabed.

Prirazlomnoye is a small field with containing a mere 72 million tonnes of oil, but Gazprom said it was just a pilot project in its large-scale plans to “create a major hydrocarbons production centre in the region.”

Gazprom holds licenses to develop 30 oil and gas fields in the Russian section of the Arctic seabed, the company said.

Two months ago Russia detained 30 activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise icebreaker when they attempted to scale the Prirazlomnoye platform in protest against oil production in the Arctic seas. The protesters faced up to seven years in prison but were pardoned under an amnesty adopted by the Russian Parliament last week.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin described the Arctic region, which is estimated to hold 13 per cent of the world’s yet untapped energy reserves, as essential for Russia's economic and security interests.

Mr. Putin told top military commanders earlier this month that Russia is “intensifying the development of that promising region” and called for “deployment of military infrastructure and troops in the Arctic territories.”

India is keen to tap into Russia’s Arctic riches. A joint statement issued during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visit to Moscow in October reiterated ONGC-OVL’s “interest in participating along with Russian companies in exploration for hydrocarbons in the Arctic region”.