Russia: irredentist claims on Alaska

russian alaska

The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament on July 6 threatened to “claim back” Alaska if the United States freezes or seizes Russian assets in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine. “Let America always remember: there’s a piece of territory, Alaska,” Vyacheslav Volodin said at the last session of the State Duma before summer break. “When they try to manage our resources abroad, let them think before they act that we, too, have something to take back,” Volodin said. He noted that deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy had recently proposed holding a referendum in Alaska on joining Russia. The day after Volodin’s comments, billboards proclaiming “Alaska Is Ours!” appeared in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, apparently placed by a local “patriot.”

Russia, which began settling Alaska in the 1740s, sold the territory to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million, or roughly two cents per acre. In 2014, after the Crimean vote for unification with Russia, a group disgruntled Russian descendants in Alaska launched an “Alaska Back to Russia” signature drive on the White House website. It garnered some 30,000 signatures, although it is not clear where they were all from.

On the same day as Volodin’s bluster, ex-president Dmitry Medvedev took to social media to invoke the threat of nuclear war if the International Criminal Court moves to prosecute Russia for war crimes in Ukraine. “The idea to punish a country that has the largest nuclear arsenal is absurd in and of itself,” Medvedev wrote on messaging app Telegram. “And potentially creates a threat to the existence of mankind.” (Moscow Times, Newsweek, AFP)

This is but the latest in a recent paroxysm of nuclear threats from Russian political figures.

Pyotr Tolstoy is a direct descendent of Leo Tolstoy—certainly an irony given the literary giant’s anarcho-pacifist beliefs. In May, Pyotr Tolstoy boasted of how his great-great-grandfather “slaughtered” British and French troops during the Crimean War, while insisting that Moscow will not end its war in Ukraine until it has reached the Polish border. (The Telegraph)

Vladimir Putin himself also engaged in some undisguised irredentism last month, grandiosely comparing himself to Peter the Great, the 18th-century czar who expanded Russia’s borders to the west in a campaign of military conquest. After visiting an exhibition dedicated to the fabled czar, Putin said: “Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned” (what was Russia’s). (The Guardian)

Putin is not correct here, however. With the exception of an area of what is now Estonia conquered from the Teutonic Knights by Ivan the Terrible in the Livonian War of 1558 and held by Muscovy until 1581 (when it was taken by the Swedes), none of the large territories taken by Peter in the Great Northern War (1700–21) had ever before been under Russian rule. The Great Northern War marked the beginning of the Russian empire, with Moscow gaining control of a significant stretch of the Baltic coast for the first time.

Map via Wikipedia