Urgent termination of the Agreement. Russia on her way after Alaska


The reassertion of Russia’s greatness has been a motif of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, and his projection of military might and cyberpower is in part why Russian-American relations are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

So the 150th anniversary on Thursday of Russia’s sale of Alaska to the United States — an event few Americans may notice — was a day of mourning for some hard-right Russian nationalists who see the transaction as a gigantic blunder by the ailing czarist empire, one that reverberates as the major powers vie for influence over the Arctic and its natural riches in an age of climate change.

“If Russia was in possession of Alaska today, the geopolitical situation in the world would have been different,” Sergey Aksyonov, the prime minister of Crimea, told a Crimean television network this month.

A niche military magazine, Military-Industrial Courier, recently ran a two-part article headlined “The Alaska We’ve Lost,” grumbling about what could have been.

Even Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, was asked about Alaska in a recent interview with a Russian newspaper. “The anniversary may, of course, trigger diverse emotions,” he said. “But it is a good occasion to refresh memories of Russians’ contribution to exploration of the American continent.”

Putin, asked about Alaska during a call-in show in 2014, said “we don’t need to get worked up about this.” At the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, on Thursday, however, he said that American activities in Alaska could destabilize world order. “What we do is contained locally, while what the U.S. does in Alaska, it does on the global level,” he said, calling the American development of a missile system there “one of the most pressing security issues.”

No one, of course, is seriously suggesting that Russia retake Alaska like it annexed Crimea in 2014 from Ukraine. But the differences in how the sale is remembered in Russia and the United States — and, crucially, among Alaska’s indigenous communities — points to the state’s history as a cultural and religious crossroad.

Russians started to settle Alaska in 1784, setting up trading posts and Eastern Orthodox churches, mostly along the coast. By the 1860s, having lost the Crimean War to Britain, and fearful that Britain would seize Alaska in any future conflict, the czar decided to strike a deal.

The sea otters who were the heart of then-thriving fur trade had almost been wiped out, and the Russians also feared that if gold were discovered — as it would be, in the Klondike Gold Rush that started in 1896 — the Americans might overrun the territory, said Susan Smith-Peter, a historian at the College of Staten Island in New York.

“From the Russian point of view, the deal made a lot of sense,” she said. “They could irritate Britain, and they could have a closer relationship with the United States.”

The United States also thought the purchase would position it closer to trade with China, and fend off any British thoughts of encroachment on the West Coast, said Gwenn A. Miller, a historian at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

“It was really about Manifest Destiny,’’ she said, “about expanding the U.S.”

The treaty — setting the price at $7.2 million, or about $125 million today — was negotiated and signed by Eduard de Stoeckl, Russia’s minister to the United States, and William Seward, the American secretary of state. It was mostly considered beneficial to both countries, but some critics derided it as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” — and even now, scholars debate whether it was a bargain.

In some Russian quarters, the sale has left a bitter aftertaste. “Along with Alaska, you sold out your Russian people,” Vladimir Kolychev, a history enthusiast, wrote in a poem last fall, addressed to Czar Alexander II.

Andrei Znamenski, a history professor at the University of Memphis, said that irredentist calls to reclaim Alaska were not limited to extremists.

“It’s a very convenient episode for nationalists, who want Russia to expand, to exploit,” he said. “It fits into national rhetoric: Look how the Americans have treated us.”


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