Russian lawmaker demands US return Alaska and California’s Fort Ross as reparations for sanctions

In another sign that the thirty-year post-Cold War thaw is coming to an end, a Russian lawmaker has demanded the return of Alaska and an old nineteenth-century fort in northern California.

It’s safe to say the U.S. won’t accede to these undiplomatic demands anytime soon, but in the wake of Russia’s irredentist military action in Ukraine, it’s certainly raising eyebrows in Washington. The demands were made on Russian state television by Oleg Matveychev, who is a member of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

Apparently, Matveychev longs for the repatriation of historic Russian territories in North America, and hopes for this to occur as soon as “demilitarization is completed” in Ukraine. Topping his list of demands is the return of Alaska, which was purchased from the Tsarist Russian Empire in 1867 under the provisions of the Alaska Purchase—better known as “Seward’s Folly.”

It may also come as a surprise to some of the old hippies in San Francisco that Matveychev also demands the return of Fort Ross, a historic Russian settlement located only about 90 miles north of the City by the Bay. And it’s not only far northern states and obscure forts that the Russian lawmaker wants back.

“We should be thinking about reparations from the damage that was caused by the sanctions and the war itself because that too costs money and we should get it back,” he explained in an interview on Sunday, according to the Express newspaper in the United Kingdom. To wit, Matveychev demands the immediate return of all Russian assets and properties seized or acquired by the United States, whether belonging to the present Russian Federation, or to its previous incarnations, including the sprawling Soviet Union and the Empire of the Tsars.

Oh, and he wants Antarctica, too. “We discovered it, so it belongs to us,” Matveychev explained, referring to the discovery of the Antarctic landmass by the Russians Bellingshausen and Lazarev in 1820. It’s a tall claim, but the Russians could never be accused of being unambitious.

Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System of 1959, which makes it off-limits to any territorial claims. And Alaska was purchased fair and square by Secretary of State William H. Seward for a grand total of $7.2 million.

The acquisition of Alaska was considered a colossal mistake at the time—that is, until the 1890s, when gold strikes attracted thousands of prospectors. Since then, the state has become celebrated for its tremendous natural beauty, for its enormous energy reserves, and for being the home of Sarah Palin. Fort Ross, on the other hand, was a small Russian colony established in 1812. After a few decades of hardship, the fort and its environs were sold in 1841.

It’s likely that the U.S. will ignore Matveychev’s outlandish demands. In fact, the U.S. government has been levying even greater sanctions on Russia and its allies, with a fresh set of sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, as well as eleven Russian officials targeted for individual censure.

So there’s no reason to imagine that Alaska and Fort Ross will be returning to the Russian fold anytime soon. Which is, in some respects, a great shame, since it would be interesting to see the reaction of the bien-pensant liberals of San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest to the prospect of being next-door neighbors with a Russian outpost or two.


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Todd Jaquith


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