Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Baked Alaska on a Plate
Alexander II was the Tsar of Russia (1855-1881). His holdings in North America gave him more territory to protect, more expenses to pay and not much in return for this frozen stretch of perceived worthlessness. Alexander also noted the rising involvement of the British Navy on the Pacific side of the world, and having additional Pacific lands to secure invited a confrontation he did not want. What followed seemed like a minor blip on the scheme of world history. Until now.
Today, you have some pretty strong tea leaves to read in Russian attempts to expand her power. Crimea. Ukraine… and… Remember that in August of 2007, a three-man Russian deep water submersible descended 14,000 feet under the North Pole to plant a titanium Russia flag (above right), cementing Russia’s claim for the entire arctic region, including the Northwest Passage, a waterway that is rapidly opening up under the heat of global warming. So looking back in history, Russia and the United States laid the framework for a building modern confrontation.
“Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in 1859, believing the United States would off-set the designs of Russia’s greatest rival in the Pacific, Great Britain. The looming U.S. Civil War delayed the sale, but after the war, Secretary of State William Seward quickly took up a renewed Russian offer and on March 30, 1867, agreed to a proposal from Russian Minister in Washington, Edouard de Stoeckl, to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million. The Senate approved the treaty of purchase on April 9; President Andrew Johnson signed the treaty on May 28, and Alaska was formally transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867. This purchase ended Russia’s presence in North America and ensured U.S. access to the Pacific northern rim.” A Summary from the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State. “Ended Russia’s presence in North America”? Maybe not.
Nine years after that arctic flag planting, it merits looking at the official Russian position on the legality of that sale of the “people’s land” by unrepresentative monarchs to the United States. It’s being floated as a joke… except peel back the external layer and know that if it were reasonably possible, there is little doubt that Russia would try and take back this mineral/fossil fuel-rich land into Mother Russia. Obviously not now, but… As much as Crimea was once a part of Russia, justifying its recapture by Moscow, so was Alaska… and the money garnered from that sale did not go to the people… and if you have any knowledge of the 1917 Russian Revolution, you know how the entire Tsarist monarchy was considered completely illegal.
As income inequality and extreme political polarization (like the “Trumping of America”) define contemporary American politics, as issues that actually contributed to our own Civil War have resurfaced (or simply have never been resolved), there is very real potential of a “great unraveling,” where the United States breaks into smaller autonomous countries where those irreconcilable differences settle separately into the regions where those values prevail. If such a break-up were to occur, Alaska would probably be a dangling and relatively undefended, sparsely-populated strategic territory, a delicious target for a voracious Russian leader.
“Amid growing anti-Americanism in Russia following the imposition of U.S. sanctions, Russian officials and pro-Kremlin journalists and bloggers have fueled talk — generally facetious — of an ambition to retake Alaska… In an appearance on a BBC talk show last month, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's permanent representative to the European Union, made perhaps the most direct hint at this goal of any official, suggesting that U.S. Senator John McCain should ‘watch over Alaska.’” Moscow Times, August 3rd.
With the purported Russian hacking of DNC servers, with the obvious Putin-bias towards Donald Trump, is there a deeper agenda bubbling? Russia knows such an Alaska “takeover” is not remotely possible today. But there is a gleam in the eyes of senior Russian leaders whenever they speak of Alaska… And there is always tomorrow.
I’m Peter Dekom, and in the world of ruthless global leaders eyeing prizes everywhere, there is nothing to suggest that if given the opportunity, Russia would sit back and let Alaska sit unmolested.