What is Alaska not
There were times in America, and it wasn't that long ago, when candidates for the highest office in the state were actually tested to see if they had what it takes for the job. The question of character was raised, and in interviews, aspirants had to prove that they had enough knowledge of the world to lead the nation.
Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the Republican candidate for the 2008 vice presidential post, felt the same way. When asked what previous knowledge she had in dealing with Russia, the quick-syllable provincial politician from America's far north replied: "You are the direct neighbors on our doorstep, from land here in Alaska you can really see Russia. "
The statement did not reveal much foreign policy expertise - which is why it caused a sensation at the time. What is correct, however, is that Russia and the USA come close to each other in the Bering Strait; only four kilometers separate the Big (Russian) and the Small Diomedes Island (American).
And in fact, at least historically, the ties between the United States and Russia are nowhere closer than in the 49th state of the USA: Alaska was Russia's outpost in the New World and belonged to the Tsarist Empire for more than a century.
However, 150 years ago, on March 30, 1867 to be precise, Russia sold its colony on the American continent to the United States. $ 7.2 million was on the US Treasury check, by today's standards a good $ 120 million - undoubtedly a bargain price.
It is four o'clock in the morning, a Saturday morning, when the US Secretary of State William Seward and the Russian envoy Eduard von Stoeckl agreed on the price for the surrender of the territory after a negotiated night in the State Department.
More than a sixth of the area of the United States - approximately 1.7 of 9.8 million square kilometers - is occupied by the northernmost state of Alaska. There live, in the largest exclave in the world, but only a little more than 710,000 inhabitants (USA total: around 323 million). Today Russia and the United States are separated by the sea. Without the sale of "Russian America" to the USA in 1867 for only 7.2 million US dollars, Russia (1917/1922 to 1991 the Soviet Union) and Canada would have a 2477-kilometer land border; Russia would probably have bases, naval ports and perhaps even missile bases not far from the United States.
The New York Times knew at the time to report that the two would appear at the White House five hours later and present the contract to the president. Andrew Johnson signs the same morning, and in the early afternoon, at exactly two-thirty, the agreement is already before the Senate in the Capitol for deliberation. That's how it went in Washington back then.
A good century earlier, the Dane Vitus Bering had sighted the coast of Alaska on an expedition and mapped it in rough outlines. The strait between America and Asia was named after him. Bering was in St. Petersburg on behalf of the Tsar's court, and so after his discovery in 1741 - and the finding that there was no land connection between Asia and America - the new land fell to the Russian crown.
The journey from Saint Petersburg to Alaska took six months
Four years later, the first Russian fur hunters arrived in the area. However, they were initially limited to the Aleutian Islands, the chain of islands that stretches from Alaska to the Asian mainland. In 1783 the fur hunters founded their first permanent settlement on the mainland, in 1799 Tsar Paul I granted the Russian-American Company, the amalgamation of several fur-hunter companies, a profitable trade monopoly for Alaska.
The boom didn't last long. The animals, especially the coveted sea otters, were mercilessly hunted and almost exterminated. The number of fur hunters fell again quickly, but that of the settlers did not increase: even in the very best of times it could hardly have been more than 800. It was fur hunters, trappers - and missionaries who wanted to convert the indigenous people in the Aleutian Islands and on the mainland (there is still a Russian Orthodox diocese in Alaska with almost 50,000 believers, especially among the Inuit).
The trip to the distant colony from Saint Petersburg was literally half a trip around the world and lasted more than half a year, regardless of whether it was around Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. All of these are not good prerequisites for maintaining the colony.
At the end of the 1850s, interest in the distant property in Saint Petersburg finally waned. The Crimean War against Great Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire had just been lost.
The conflict had shown Alaska's strategic vulnerability: the Russians would never have been able to defend the remote territory if the maritime superpower Great Britain had decided to annex the colony. In addition, after the war, Russia was in dire need of money. With the tsar's blessing, his diplomats discreetly put Alaska up for sale in 1859.
The British quickly waved it off, but Washington was quite impressed. At that time there was something between Washington and Saint Petersburg that Donald Trump might dream of: a basic agreement on important strategic issues. And one of them was that Great Britain was viewed as a rival.
The Russians therefore preferred the USA as neighbors in their Far East to the British, who were masters in Canada (you couldn't have guessed the power constellation in the second half of the 20th century, that of the Cold War). Expansionists in America, on the other hand, envisioned a continuous US-owned coastline, from San Diego to the Arctic Circle. The start of the Civil War in the United States in 1861 put an end to such daydreams for the time being.
After the war they come to life again, and because the Russians still need money, Alexander II has them explored again in 1866. The Tsar personally sets five million dollars as the minimum bid, but his envoy is a skilled negotiator. Stoeckl successfully increases the amount to seven million dollars. Last night, Secretary of State Seward, an ardent expansionist, added another $ 200,000 to finally get the deal perfect.
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