In 1867, a historic transaction changed the course of history when Russia sold Alaska to the United States for the sum of $7.2 million. This sale, brokered during the era of the Russian Empire, led to Alaska becoming the 49th state of the USA in 1959.
Yet, in recent times, discussions have arisen about the potential for Russia to reclaim this vast northern territory. Alaska's history is intertwined with that of Russia, with the two being separated by only 85 kilometers (52.8 miles) at the Bering Strait.
At the time of the sale, the Russian Empire faced financial challenges and found the upkeep of Alaska to be a daunting task, leading to the decision to sell it to the United States. In December 2023, Sergei Mironov, a Russian lawmaker, ignited the debate by suggesting that Russia should consider reclaiming Alaska.
He argued that the United States appeared to be losing global influence, presenting an opportunity for Russia to reclaim what some in Russia still consider "lost" territory.
Russian Claims Gain Momentum
Surprisingly, there have been reports of posters in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk dating back to 2022 that boldly proclaimed "Alaska is ours!" This indicates that a campaign to assert Russia's claim on Alaska might already be underway.
The push for Alaska's return is not limited to grassroots movements; it has found support among influential figures like Vyacheslav Volodin, a confidant of President Putin and chairman of the State Duma. In 2022, Volodin asserted, "When they [U.S.
lawmakers] attempt to appropriate our assets abroad, they should be aware that we also have something to claim back," referencing Alaska. Additionally, there have been discussions about Russia demanding the return of Fort Ross in California, a settlement established by Russian traders in 1812 and occupied for thirty years.
Geopolitical Concerns and Historical Roots
In the summer of 2023, Oleg Matveychev, a Kremlin adviser, reportedly made this demand, linking it to the U.S. sanctions imposed during the Ukraine conflict. This development raised concerns in the United States, especially as Russian and Chinese warships conducted joint patrols near Alaska.
Historically, Russia's connection to Alaska can be traced back to the Danish naval officer Vitus Bering, whose exploration led to the discovery of Alaska during the "Great Nordic Expedition" between 1733 and 1743. Russian settlements were established in America, including Fort Ross, which was eventually sold to a Swiss individual.
While the idea of Russia reclaiming Alaska may raise eyebrows, it's essential to remember that the sale of Alaska in 1867 was a legally valid transaction. Alaska legally belongs to the United States, despite any aspirations Russia may hold for its return. The debate continues, but the geopolitical landscape remains firmly in favor of the United States.