Russians want part of Alaska returned

ONE HUNDRED and thirty-two years after selling the vast and mineral- rich land of Alaska to the United States for $7.2m - a mere two cents an acre - in one of history's least lucrative land deals, Russia wants some of it back.

To the annoyance of the Alaskans, Moscow has been pressing the US government to part with 40,000 square miles of the seas and fishing grounds that separate East from West along the International Dateline.

The issue is part of a broader territorial issue in the far north that centres on a barren island well inside the Arctic Circle, just below the point at which the polar ice never melts. Aptly, this patch of 1,700 square miles is known by the Alaskans as Wrangel Island.

The island, which is usually frozen and populated by polar bears, is one of eight rocks and islands in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea which, with their large and rich seabeds, ended up in Russian territory under an agreement struck between what was the Soviet Union and the United States in 1990.

Notwithstanding its own vast and rich 548,400 square miles of land - in which there is an average of less than one person per square mile - Alaska was infuriated by the deal, not least because state representatives believe there may be oil and other important natural resources in the region.

The state's MPs contend that Alaska was denied the right to participate in the negotiations with the Soviet Union by the US government. The talks were held in secret. Alaska is also pressing for the agreement to be declared null and void, as the Soviet Union collapsed before it could be ratified by Moscow. Despite that, Russia and the US have since agreed to abide by the deal.

State rights are a particularly sensitive issue in Alaska, which until 1959 was denominated as a territory under an unelected governor chosen by the US president. Equally, Alaska - which was under Russian control for 126 years, after its trappers poured across the Bering Straits in search of sea otters and fur seals - has long been jealously eyed by Moscow, which has yet to forget how it gave the place away for a song in the mid- 19th century.

The issue of the so-called 1990 US-USSR Maritime Boundary Agreement has been simmering away for several years, but disagreements took an abrupt step forward a week ago when Alaska's governor, Tony Knowles, signed a resolution from both houses of the state legislature, strongly urging the US government to renegotiate it.

Although non-binding legally, the resolution heightens the pressure on the US federal government. The state is threatening to follow it up with a series of hearings on the issue. It argues that if it loses its 40,000 square miles of water to the Russians, then with it will go a potential annual catch of some 300 million pounds of fish, with nothing in return.

Wrangel is the jewel in the crown of the disputed territories. Alaska has long seen it as its own partly because it had a fur-trapping company on the island until 1924, when the Soviet Union occupied it. Quite apart from its possible mineral riches, it is rich in history: several years ago Russian scientists found the remains of 23 dwarf woolly mammoths on Wrangel, which they believed survived the Ice Age by 6,000 years, before finally being eradicated by early man.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee