The U.S. State Department on Monday brushed off reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to look into reclaiming what he deems former Russian “real estate,” including Alaska.
“Let me just understand that he signed something today that said that the sale of Alaska is illegitimate? Well, I speak for all of us in the, in the U.S. government to say that certainly he is not getting it back,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at his daily briefing when asked about the reported decree.
According to the Russian state news agency TASS, Putin signed a decree on Friday to allocate funds to the Russian Department of Foreign Property of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation to cover “the process of searching the real estate property owned by the Russian Federation, the former Russian Empire, the former USSR,” as well as for “due registration of [property] rights” and “legal protection of this property.”
It is unclear if Putin had his sights on Alaska, but the Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, noted on Friday that, “A prominent milblogger responded to the decree by implausibly calling for Russia to start enacting the law in “Alaska” and throughout a significant portion of eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.”
“We suggest starting with Alaska, the Dnieper Ukraine, Bessarabia, the Grand Duchy of Finland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Central Asian states of Russian Turkestan, most of the Baltic provinces, and a significant part of Poland,” the Russian nationalist blogger wrote on Telegram, sharing a photo of Putin’s decree. “Property can be searched both in the GDR and in other Warsaw Pact countries. An expedition of combat legal defenders has already set out for Africa.”
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Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev seemed to mock Patel’s comment about Alaska later Monday. “According to a State Department representative, Russia is not getting back Alaska, which was sold to the U.S. in the 19th century. This is it, then. And we’ve been waiting for it to be returned any day. Now war is unavoidable,” he wrote on X.
During a 2014 question-and-answer session, Putin, when asked if he had plans regarding the “annexation of Alaska,” described the 1867 sale at $7.2 million as “inexpensive.”
“Alaska was sold sometime in the 19th century. Louisiana was sold to the United States by the French at about the same time. Thousands of square kilometers were sold for $7.2 million, although in gold. We can calculate the equivalent amount, but it was definitely inexpensive,” Putin said, according to a Washington Post transcript. “Russia is a northern country with 70% of its territory located in the north and the far north. Alaska is not located in the southern hemisphere, either, is it? It’s cold out there as well. Let’s not get worked up about it, all right?”
Russian journalist Kirill Kleimyonov had joked during the session, “That’s a popular joke, Mr. Putin. They call Alaska ‘Ice Crimea’ in jest.”
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However, the prospect of Moscow reclaiming Alaska was also referenced by Russian politician Sergey Mironov as recently as December, when he reacted on X to Venezuela approving a referendum to take over neighboring oil-rich Essequibo region controlled by Guyana.
“Did you want a new world order? Receive and sign. Venezuela annexed a 24th state, Guyana-Essequibo. This is happening right under the nose of the once great hegemon of the United States. All that remains is for Mexico to return Texas and the rest. It’s time for Americans to think about their future. And also about Alaska,” he wrote on Dec. 6.
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,” according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian. “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.”
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The purchase “ended Russia’s presence in North America and ensured U.S. access to the Pacific northern rim,” the office says, noting how the 1867 sale, “marked the end of Russian efforts to expand trade and settlements to the Pacific coast of North America, and became an important step in the United States rise as a great power in the Asia-Pacific region.”