Medvedev and Stoltenberg signed an accord detailing their countries' maritime border in the Arctic [EPA]

The leaders of Russia and Norway have signed an agreement delineating the two countries' maritime border, effectively ending a 40-year dispute over a region believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves.

The agreement was signed by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday in Russia's northern city of Murmansk, a Barents Sea port.

"The establishment of clear borders of jurisdiction in the region where our interests intersect is doubtless very significant and a very important step forward," Medvedev said.

The deal will allow both Norway and Russia to chart the maritime depths of the ocean with the aim of discovering potential oil and natural gas.

"I hope this accord will be able to strengthen the potential of our cooperation in the energy sphere," Medvedev said.

"Primarily it is of course (about) energy, because unregulated questions of territorial demarcation and the delineation of the maritime space have not allowed us to carry out major energy projects."

Distribution of resources

The deal regulates energy resources in the region, requiring the two countries to jointly develop oil and gas deposits that cross over the border-line.

The agreement will "effectively remove possible disagreements over the distribution of hydrocarbon resources," the Kremlin said in a statement on its web site.

Since 1970 Norway has been in dispute with first the Soviet Union and then Russia over a 176,000 square kilometre maritime area straddling their economic zones in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Medvedev and Stoltenberg struck the deal in Oslo in April, agreeing a compromise in which the contested zone was to be divided almost equally between the two countries.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are at odds over how to divide the Arctic seabed, thought to hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered gas resources, according to the US Geological Survey.

Russia would need to spend seven to 10 years on prospecting and studying the Arctic shelf before beginning development of oil and gas deposits, according to natural resources minister Yury Trutnev.

"The most optimistic time scale (to begin development) is 10-15 years," he said.

Source: Agencies