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“I’m not sure whether they’ve put a metal flag, a rubber flag or a bedsheet on the ocean floor,” said Tom Casey, a spokesman for the State Department. “Either way, it doesn’t have any legal standing.”

In a record-breaking expedition led by Artur Chilingarov, a veteran polar explorer, two deep-sea submersibles descended 14,000 feet. The successful operation was greeted with jubilation in Russia, where it stirred memories of derring-do from the golden era of Soviet naval exploration.

Like other countries with Arctic coastlines, Russia has laid claims for greater territory in the oil-rich area and will present its case to a U.N. commission in 2010.