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Does Russia need Alaska? American spending on state development has not paid off

Date: May 27, 2024 Time: 18:11:38

The history of Russia’s sale of this state and adjacent territories, which at one time was called “Russian America”, remains the subject of global controversy.

Photo: Shutterstock

In early September, US President Joe Biden announced his plans to cancel land lease permits in Alaska for the development of oil and gas fields, after which he came under harsh criticism, including from the authorities. state. Alaska Governor Mike Dunvley noted that the American leader’s “noble” decision (apparently out of concern for the environment) not only makes no sense, but could also lead to a sharp increase in fossil fuel prices.

– In the end, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, they all laugh at the United States. “I am a historian and I do not remember an example in the history of states or empires in which they put such a brake on their wheels,” Danvli complained.

The fact is that Alaska, being a subsidized region of the United States, plays at least some role in the country’s economy only thanks to the production of that same oil and gas. These natural resources not only provide jobs and income to local residents, but also represent a small contribution to the United States federal budget. That is why the history of Russia’s sale of this state and the adjacent territories, which at one time received the name “Russian America”, remains the subject of global controversy.

KP.RU examined a little-known and surprising chapter in the history of the Russian Empire and presented its vision of the agreement, which later became one of the most important of the 19th century.


In 1648, the navigator Semyon Dezhnev led an expedition in search of a strait between Siberia and America. During his voyage he discovered and crossed the Strait, which later received the name Bering Strait.

This discovery made it possible for our traders to reach North America through the Pacific Ocean, avoiding the difficult routes across the Atlantic. The sailors founded the Russian settlement of Kyngovey, which became the first in Alaska, although it was later abandoned.

In 1732, military surveyor Mikhail Gvozdev arrived at Cape Prince of Wales and the Seward Peninsula, located on the northwest coast of North America. Nine years later, the navigator Vitus Bering undertook a similar expedition to the shores of the “continent”. And in 1772, a full-fledged Russian trading settlement was founded on the Aleutian Islands.


The expedition of the merchant Grigory Shelikhov in 1784 marked the beginning of the Russian colonization of America. Arriving on Kodiak Island, he began interacting with the local Inuit, establishing business relationships. Shelikhov also sought to spread Christianity among the natives, so he built Orthodox churches on the island.

At the same time, he introduced agricultural crops that were familiar to us, such as beets and turnips, developing agriculture and livestock on the island. This made it possible to create a sustainable economy and ensure the food independence of the settlement, which later became known as Port Pavlovskaya.

With the goal of further spreading Orthodoxy on the continent, Empress Catherine II established the American Orthodox Diocese. In 1793, the first Karelian mission arrived in the new lands, consisting of five monks from the Valaam monastery, headed by Archimandrite Joasaph.

In 1791, another merchant, Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin, sailed to the southern coast of Alaska. He reached Cook Bay in the Pacific Ocean and founded the Nikolaevsky Redoubt on its shore. A year later, his team built a second settlement near Lake Iliamna. And in 1795, the industrial expedition of businessman Alexander Baranov managed to advance to Yakutat.


In 1799 the Fortress of St. Michael was founded in the Alexander Archipelago and twenty years later more than 200 Russians lived there, many of whom had been born directly in America. The settlement became an active center of social and economic life: workshops, warehouses, shipyards and even a primary school for children appeared there.

Russian settlers hunted sea otters (the local cousins ​​of our beavers) and otters, and traded their pelts. However, the Inuit remained the main labor force. This led to the formation of a complex social structure in our settlements, where the natives played an important role in economic and cultural life.

The Mikhailovskaya Fortress continued to grow and in 1808 it was transformed into a full-fledged city, called Novo-Arkhangelsk. Together with other settlements on the American continent, the city was included in the General Government of Eastern Siberia.

In fact, the region was controlled by the Russian-American company, whose headquarters were in Irkutsk. It was a semi-state trading company founded by Shelikhov and Rezanov and approved by decree of Emperor Paul I.

In 1812, explorer Ivan Kuskov sailed to California and built a fort 50 miles north of San Francisco, which he called Fortress Ross. It became the southernmost Russian settlement in North America. Formally, this territory belonged to Spain, but Kuskov bought it and settled there with almost a hundred Russians.

The Russian population on the American continent continued to increase and with it new cities appeared. As a result, our ancestors built about 60 independent settlements. It is important to note that even today vestiges of the Russian presence in North America remain visible. 47 modern settlements in the United States are based precisely on the site of our former colonies.


At the end of its existence, the area of ​​”Russian America” ​​was more than 1.5 million square kilometers and about 2.5 thousand Russians lived on it. However, this entire vast territory was practically undeveloped. The harsh climate and difficult terrain, continuous clashes with the Indians did not allow the Russians to advance deeper into the continent.

In the mid-1820s, the sea otter population declined considerably and coastal agriculture was affected by natural disasters. This caused food problems: furs and fishing no longer covered the costs of maintaining the colonies themselves.

The governors and even the emperor himself did not want to lose their colonies, but over time it became clear that they were not profitable. Furthermore, despite the convention on the delimitation of possessions with Great Britain signed in 1825, which was supposed to guarantee the peaceful coexistence of the two powers, the low defense capacity of Russian settlements in the event of a military conflict would become a problem. serious. .

In 1841, Ross Fort and all the land around it were sold to American businessman John Sutter. Most of the Russian settlers did not want to remain under the rule of the new leader and were forced to move north to other settlements. But they didn’t live there long either.

In 1867, the Russian Empire and the United States reached an agreement, as a result of which we sold all remaining property in North America for $7.2 million. An outing was organized for everyone who wanted to return to their homeland.

Russia spent the proceeds from the sale mainly on the construction and modernization of its railways, as well as on the purchase of locomotives and steam cars in Europe. But many American experts believe that the development and maintenance of Alaska is costing their country much more than originally expected. And although huge mineral reserves were later found there, the development of which Biden now wants to abandon, the state’s development costs have not borne fruit.

Expert Comments

“If we recalculate at modern prices, taking into account the relationship between the US GDP of those years and the purchase price, it turns out that the amount paid to Russia is now equivalent to 16 billion dollars,” said Inna Litvinenko, associate professor at the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship of the Moscow State University of Economics, commented on the situation for KP.RU. – Energy resources produced in Alaska are still used to meet the needs of local residents and infrastructure. Taking into account the volume of funds already invested in the region, as well as the difficult conditions, the fact that the Americans acquired Alaska can hardly be considered profitable from an investment point of view. But Russia was freed from the significant costs of maintaining the “subsidized region” and at the same time received the necessary profit for the treasury from its sale.

“The sale of Alaska allowed our country to focus on internal problems and avoid a possible conflict with Great Britain, which also claimed this region,” Alexandra Kuznetsova, editor of the Migrantu Mir company, commented on the situation to KP.RU. “And despite Alaska’s wealth of natural resources, its remoteness and climate made their exploitation difficult and expensive. At the same time, Russia did not have the necessary technologies or resources, so selling the region was a very reasonable decision for us.

* This website provides news content gathered from various internet sources. It is crucial to understand that we are not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information presented Read More

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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