As part of their plan to strengthen their grip on Arctic mining and oil drilling, the Russian military is building five new bases on Arctic Islands.
One of those, an air defense array, is being installed on Wrangel Island, which sits atop massive oil reserves and lucrative fisheries.
It is also arguably American territory. While Russians have occupied this Alaskan island since 1924, its true ownership has never been fully established.
What is America’s claim to this Alaskan island, and what are the consequences of allowing Russia to militarily occupy it?
The World Tribune reported:
“Russia has unveiled a 14,000-square-meter (151,000-square-foot) permanent military base in the Arctic, which President Vladimir Putin sees as a key strategic region,” the World Tribune reports. “The Arctic Trefoil, the second Putin-era base in the Arctic, was built on a huge ice-covered archipelago called Franz Josef Land.”
“Moscow is constructing four other Arctic military bases – at Rogachevo, Cape Schmidt, Wrangel and Sredniy – the report said,” the Tribune noted.
The four bases are part of Russia’s plan to gain “control of international shipping on the Northern Sea Route,” the Tribune reported, noting, “The Arctic region’s huge oil and gas reserves are believed to be worth as much as $35 trillion.”
But it’s Russia’s decision to construct a permanent military base on Wrangel Island that is drawing the attention of many American experts. Russia’s claim to the island, which is part of Alaska, is tenuous.
The United States first had legal claim to Wrangel Island in 1867 as part of the Alaska Purchase.
Americans resided on the island beginning in 1881, as part of a surveying and military expedition.
American military personnel and civilians lived on Wrangel Island continuously from 1881 until 1924.
Americans owned private land and homes on the Alaskan island, which hosted a reindeer farm, polar bear hunts, and Hollywood movie shoots.
That ended in 1924 when Russians aboard the warship Red Oktober raided the island.
They captured its American residents, shipped them to Vladivostok, and claimed the Alaskan island for Russia.
Subsequent American presidents, fearful of starting a war with the Soviets, did not press Moscow to return the stolen islands.
In fact, the USSR-USA Maritime Boundary Treaty signed by the Soviets in 1990 does not formally recognize Wrangel Island as Russian territory.
But the United States must reclaim the islands, now more than ever.
Not only does Wrangel Island allow an increasingly aggressive Russia to establish a foothold to control shipping and maritime activities in the Arctic, the island sits atop billions of dollars in oil and natural gas reserves, as well as rich fisheries worth hundreds of millions.
Those resources are, rightfully, American property, as Wrangel Island is still part of Alaska.
At least one American official recognizes the threat.
In his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate, Defense Secretary James Mattis called out Russia’s belligerence in the Arctic.
“I’m all for engagement but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to and there’s decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia,” said Mattis.
“The U.S. must ensure that Russia doesn’t expand those efforts to dominate the region,” said Mattis, specifically referring to the Arctic.
Advocates of American sovereignty hope that means taking all appropriate legal measures to ensure return of this stolen Alaskan island.