Return Alaska to Russia?
A month ago, such lunacy wasn’t newsworthy. But after Russia shockingly invaded Ukraine, anything is possible.
The assault on Ukraine has been massive and brutal. Civilians continue to be targeted and thousands have been killed. Apartment complexes, stores, and nuclear power plants are being bombed. Hospitals, orphanages and children’s theaters are being shelled. Just as worrisome is Vladimir Putin threatening to use nuclear weapons.
The game changer may be Russia’s hypersonic missiles, which fly more than five times the speed of sound. They can maneuver in mid-flight like a slower cruise missile, making them harder for air-defense systems to track and intercept.
They are bunker busters. Putin’s forces claim the first hypersonic missile blew up an underground warehouse storing Ukrainian missiles and aviation ammunition.
No one knows what Putin plans next. But demanding the return of Alaska to Russia seems far-fetched — or is it?
Earlier this month, Russian Duma member Oleg Matveychev appeared on Russia 1, a state-owned TV channel, demanding reparations from Europe and the U.S. for the damage caused by their sanctions levied after his country invaded Ukraine, the Washington Times reported. (Duma is the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia).
Matveychev stated those reparations include the return of all Russian properties including Alaska.
The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. Russia proposed the sale after being soundly defeated in the Crimean War (1853-1856). Russia needed the money.
The Alaska purchase added 624,000 square miles to the United States for the bargain price of just 2 cents per acre. At the time, some in the lower 48 states thought it was a waste of money and called it “Seward’s Folly.” They were highly critical of Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the deal.
However, the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899) vindicated Seward and put Alaska on the map. Discovery of gold attracted 100,000 prospectors. Large-scale gold mining in the Yukon Territory didn’t end until 1966, and by that time the region had yielded some hundreds of millions in gold.
The gold rush cemented the link between Washington’s Puget Sound and Alaska. Miners flocked to Seattle and Tacoma to buy their supplies and take a ship north to the Yukon and the gold deposits.
By 2013, Alaska’s economic relationship with the Puget Sound accounted for 113,000 regional jobs and $6.2 billion in labor earnings, a McDowell Group study found. “The value of Puget Sound exports to Alaska totaled $5.4 billion in 2013, up from $3.8 billion in 2003.
Alaska supplies oil and natural gas and seafood to the Lower 48. Today, increasing the supply of North Slope crude is a way to replace Russia’s exports in our refineries.
Our 49th state is more than an exporter of seafood and energy. It is truly different and unique. Alaska has more mountains, glaciers, and wildlife than just about anywhere else in the world.
Alaska is an ever-popular destination with more tourists making their way north again this year. Before the coronavirus pandemic, 2.26 million tourists traveled to Alaska between May and September 2019.
Whether Oleg Matveychev was grandstanding or delivering a message for Putin, we need to take his statements seriously.
America must bolster its Alaska defenses. Remember, Russia is just 55 miles across the Bering Strait. However, Russia’s mobile hypersonic missiles have a 1,250 mile range — the approximate air miles between Seattle and Anchorage.
In a time when Putin is determined to restore Russia’s territorial integrity at any cost, we must be prepared in case he turns his weapons our way.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.