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July 11, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10073

Alaska Is Russian Territory – From Throwaway Remarks In Russia's Duma To An Overly Clever Billboard Campaign

July 11, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10073

On July 6, 2022, the Russian Duma was winding up its affairs before the summer recess. The Duma was discussing Norway's blockade of the Russian Svalbard archipelago, and deputies broached the possibility of suspending or denouncing the “marine” treaty with Norway, ratified by the Duma back in 2012.

At this juncture, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin interjected apropos revisiting treaties:" Let America always remember that it has part of our territory - Alaska, and let it (the United States), when it tries to dispose of our resources abroad [Russia's frozen assets], before doing this, it should think that we also have something to get back," said Volodin. Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy seconded the idea and proposed holding a referendum in Alaska that would undoubtedly secure participation.[1]

It was at this stage that Volodin apparently realized that the Alaska idea had gone too far and he jocularly rejected Tolstoy's referendum proposal: "We do not interfere in their internal affairs, and for decades they have been going around saying that everything that is happening to them, the election of all presidents, is due to the fact that Russia is interfering. So, you do not respect your presidents ... Well, what can I say? That one [Trump] was not good for them, now the other [Biden] is falling off his bike. Well, it's us again," Volodin added.[2]


Vyacheslav Volodin (Source: Duma.gov.ru)

Volodin's Alaska comment was reported without elaboration by Russian media outlets, perhaps adopting a policy of awaiting the blessings and comments of more senior officials. There weren't any. Volodin's comment did manage to generate excited headlines in some Western outlets. "Top Russian Official’s Crazed Threat: Alaska Takeover Could Be Next" warned one headline.[3] "Russian Politician Threatens to Retaliate Against US Sanctions by Reclaiming Alaska", reported another headline.[4]

Russia's enemies took Volodin's statement at face value and as evidence of Russia's advanced brain disease. Former Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius ridiculed statements by Russian officials about plans to "return" Alaska. The politician also commented on the threats of a Third World War issued by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and linked the two.

"The Russian ex-president threatens World War III almost every week, the head of the State Duma threatens the United States with the 'return' of Alaska [to Russia]. It looks like the 'elite' brain disease has entered a dangerous new phase. Sharp objects should be removed from them so that they do not get hurt." Linkevičius wrote.[5]

The story received a further injection of life when in the Eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk city residents noticed billboards in the city bearing the inscription "Alaska is ours". At first the Krasnoyarsk residents took the billboards seriously. Restaurateur Vladimir Vladimirov, attributed their appearance to a patriotically inclined citizen. " Some patriot ordered just such a banner in the city of Krasnoyarsk. And there are several of them in different parts of the city,” Vladimirov wrote.


Billboard proclaiming "Alaska is ours" (Krak.sibnovosti.ru)

In the comments section, most users were put off by the content of the billboards. “Tell him [the patriot] that he was wrong," wrote opposition politician and former head of Yekaterinburg Yevgeny Roizman. [6]Again, there were those in the West as well as in Russia, who took the billboards at face value. Newsweek's lead was "'Alaska Is Ours!' Billboards Appear in Russia After Threat to Reclaim State."[7]

The story died the next day, when it emerged that the Alaska referred to in the billboards was not the US state that was formerly part of the Tsarist Empire, but to a local plant called "Alaska" that made light trailers resembling the venerable American U-Haul.  Indeed, the mountains in the logo of the "Alaska" company were incorporated in the banner.


The Alaska light trailer is all ours without imported parts (Source: Dela.lenta.ru)

The entire billboard campaign was the brainchild of the company's CEO, who decided to piggyback on Volodin's remarks at the Duma to create goodwill for the company. By "Alaska Is Ours", billboards the company sought to proclaim that it was successfully following the government's policy of import substitution in the face of Western sanctions:

“This is the idea of ​​our CEO, he is very patriotic about everything. Import substitution is everything. Previously, we used foreign components in our production, but now we have completely switched to domestic ones. It turned out even better. For example, there were German hubs - and now the hubs are from [the Russian company] VAZ. They are stronger." [8]

So, the Russians aren't coming for Alaska now. The episode shows how toxic relations have become. However, it shows the need for caution. It is one thing for a pronouncement to come from Vladimir Putin and another from a lower official and in isolation. The comparison between threatening to restore Alaska to Russia and a possible Russian resort to nuclear weapons illustrates this point.

Ever since the start of Putin's "special operation" back in February, Russia has brandished the threat of nuclear war should the West interfere. Russia has scheduled nuclear alerts to make the threat more concrete. Even before the Ukraine operation, Russia developed the asymmetric war relying on its strategic arsenal. The nuclear threat, however ghastly, is logical for Russia, given its now glaring inferiority on the conventional arms level. Confronting the US over Alaska makes no sense at all, a point grasped by many Russian talkbacks.  As one respondent "Yurets" wrote on Topwar.ru, "Well, have we already beaten Ukraine that we are now about to tangle with the Americans?"[9]

 

[1] Rosbalt.ru, July 6, 2022.

[2] Rbc.ru, July 6, 2022.

[3] Dailybeast.com July 6, 2022.

[4] And.com, July 6, 2022.

[5] W-n.com.ua, July 7, 2022.

[6] Ngs24.ru, July 7, 2022.

[7] Newsweek.com July 7, 2022.

[8] Dela.lenta.ru, July 7, 2022.

[9] Topwar.ru, July 6, 2022.

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