Russian nationalists want Alaska back - 150 years after it was sold to the US

Czar Alexander II sold the north American territory in 1867 for $7.2 million

Chloe Farand
Friday 31 March 2017 14:12
It was the 150th anniversary of the sale of Alaska to the US this week
It was the 150th anniversary of the sale of Alaska to the US this week

Hard-right Russian nationalists are mourning the 150th anniversary of the sale of Alaska to the US, with some calling for the territory to be returned.

There will be few events marking the 1867 sale in the US, but in Russia it has brought back bitter memories and is being seen as a "convenient" opportunity for nationalists.

Some historians regard the transaction as a short-sighted blunder by Czar Alexander II, giving up Alaska's rich natural resources, particularly its oil and gas, for $7.2 million - about $125 million (£100 million) in today's money.

“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.

Russians started to settle in Alaska in 1784, from where it set up trading posts and carried out missionary work. By the 1860s, Russia had lost the Crimean War and was in a difficult financial position. The Czar feared losing its American territory without any compensation and decided to make a deal with the US.

Andrei Znamenski, a history professor at the University of Memphis, told the New York Times that calls to reclaim Alaska were not limited to extremists.

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

According to the Times, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, recently told a Russian newspaper: “The anniversary may, of course, trigger diverse emotions. But it is a good occasion to refresh memories of Russians’ contribution to exploration of the American continent.”

Speaking about Alaska, Russian President Vladimir Putin previously said “we don’t need to get worked up about this”.

At this week’s International Artic Forum in Russia, Mr Putin said that Russia’ military activities in the Arctic region are contained locally and pose no threat to the global security, a Russian agency reports.

He blamed American activities in Alaska for potentially destabilising the world order.

“What we do, is contained locally, while what the US does in Alaska, it does on the global level,” he said.

He called the US missile defence system in Alaska “one of the most pressing security issues”.

“It is not just a defence system but a part of the nuclear potential removed to a distant area," he said.

Mr Putin said that Russian activities in the Arctic were aimed at restoring navigation and ensuring its security.

Despite the views of some nationalists, the Kremlin has shown no intentions of retaking Alaska like it annexed Crimea in 2014.

Reactions to the sale of Alaska 150 years ago were mostly positive at the time, though some Russians felt betrayed. It allowed Russia to have a closer relationship with the US while preventing its annexation by the British. For the US, Alaska provided a trade route into China.

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