Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he regards Arctic exploration a priority for Russia, but added it should also respect nature.Speaking at his annual end of year conference on Thursday, Putin stressed the importance of the Arctic for Russia and called it a main source for the country's mineral riches. "The industrial exploration of the Arctic, including the extraction of diverse raw materials is extremely important," Putin said. Russia has opened a string of military and scientific bases in the Arctic in recent years, with interest in the region growing as rising temperatures open up shipping routes and make hitherto inaccessible mineral resources easier to exploit. Moscow is betting on increased shipping through its Arctic waters linking Asia to Europe. Exploration should take place with "care for (local) nature", he said. Canada, Russia, Norway, the United States and Denmark – five nations with Arctic coastlines – have been involved in territorial disputes over oil, gas and mineral reserves in the Arctic. In 2015 Russia filed a claim in the United Nations over a vast swathe of the Arctic, including the North Pole. In November, the Russian defence ministry said it had discovered eleven islands in the Arctic in the last five years, reinforcing its 2015 claim in the disputed region.