Billboards claiming “Alaska is ours!” have been spotted in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk. It’s part of a cheeky marketing campaign for a company called ‘Alaska.’ But the reason the placards have gone viral is because only a day before, members of the Russian Duma had been observed ominously suggesting that Russia reclaim Alaska.
Apparently, a “very patriotic” director of the Alaska company, tasked with the production of trailers, put up billboards across Krasnoyarsk, a city in Siberia lying almost midway between Brussels and Alaska, as the crow flies. The play on words, “Alaska is Ours,” was intended to be provocative, since the message is superimposed onto a map of Russia and a mountain range adjacent to it, leaving just enough room in the imagination to imply an underlying Russian threat to the U.S.
Since the outbreak of open war between Russia and Ukraine in February, there has been speculation on whether Russia will stop at Ukraine, or continue its “special military operation” further to the West. Both sides have been keen to predict additional fronts, such as Kaliningrad or the Baltics, but a recent suggestion by Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has taken things even further. During a speech in parliament, Volodin reminded the United States of Alaska’s Russian origins, adding that when the U.S. “attempts to appropriate our assets abroad, they should be aware that we also have something to claim back.”
This claim references the fact that up until 1867, Alaska was part of the Russian empire, before Czar Alexander II sold the land to the U.S. for the sum of $7.2 million. Since then, however, Russia has never formally asserted a territorial claim to Alaska; U.S. ownership has never been officially disputed.
Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the Duma, boldly proposed to hold a referendum in Alaska, inviting the population there to vote on joining Russia. As unexpected as such a suggestion may sound, similar petitions titled “Alaska Back to Russia” actually gained tens of thousands of signatures during the Obama years in 2014 and 2015. Then recently, this past spring on March 13th, Duma member Oleg Matveychev announced on Russian TV that Russia should seek the “return of all Russian properties, those of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union and current Russia, which has been seized in the United States.” Matveychev confirmed that this included Alaska.
The Republican governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy, gave a clear response in a tweet: “to the Russian politicians who believe they can take back Alaska: Good luck.”
While it is tempting to dismiss talk of Russia reclaiming Alaska as mischievous needling, former Alaska governor and candidate for vice-president Sarah Palin has claimed that there is a long-standing conflict between Russia and the United States in respect to the natural resources found in the Alaskan polar regions.
So far, neither the Russian foreign ministry, nor the U.S. Defense Department, have commented on the issue.