Russia also occupies American land

The authors were no doubt brave, but missed a bigger problem. The island, eight time zones east of Moscow and home to some of Earth’s greatest natural wonders, belongs to the United States

As Vladimir Putin pursues his illegal war against Ukraine, he avoids inconvenient truths from Russia’s Soviet past. Among them, Russia has held American territory since 1924.

Only once in its history has the United States relinquished control of its territory to a hostile power. It was for the plunder of another Vladimir – Lenin – and it is the saga of America’s lost arctic islands. They remain under Russian control and the US should reclaim them.

One hundred years ago, Lenin’s Bolshevik henchmen on the Soviet gunboat Red October captured the islands from American settlers. They arrested the settlers and detained them for years, with some dying in captivity. Joseph Stalin’s forces subsequently used the islands to imprison and torture dissidents, including the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Today, the islands are home to a state-of-the-art Russian military base from which Mr. Putin can threaten American sovereignty. Last month, the US Air Force intercepted Russian bombers threatening Alaska’s borders, part of a power projection in which Wrangel Island plays a strategic role.

On August 12, 1881, US Revenue Cutter Service Capt. Calvin L. Hooper and his crew on Wrangel Island, an approximately 2,900 square kilometer uninhabited island in the Arctic Ocean 470 miles northwest of Cape Lisburne, Alaska. On the banks of the Clark River, Hooper and his colleagues from the US Revenue Marine Steamer Thomas Corwin raised the American flag and took possession of the island.

That day, Hooper was in the middle of the Arctic, performing his duties as commander of the Bering Sea Patrol, part of the Treasury Department that would later become the Coast Guard. As the senior United States official in the fledgling District of Alaska, Hooper was also the de facto governor of Alaska, tasked with overseeing the territory, which had been formed after its purchase by the United States 14 years earlier.

Hooper and his crew, including naturalist John Muir, had been ordered by Congress to rescue an American Arctic research vessel, the USS Jeannette. The rescue ultimately failed, but as it happened, just weeks before Corwin’s arrival at Wrangel Island, Jeannette’s Lt. Cmdr. George Washington De Long and his crew – still alive but having abandoned ship after an ordeal trapped in the Arctic ice floe – discovered and claimed the nearby islands of Bennet, Henrietta and Jeannette, which today are also owned by Russia.

In the following decades, American and Russian publications recognized American sovereignty over Wrangel. In 1921, the island saw its first batch of permanent settlers. Three years later, on 20 August 1924, the Soviet gunboat Red October arrived with a company of Red Army infantry. Capturing the 14 American settlers, Red October transferred them to captivity in the Russian port of Vladivostok, where they remained for years. At the time, the settlement was owned by Lomen Brothers, a Nome, Alaska, reindeer and trapping company that, along with the State of Alaska, maintains its claim to this day.

About the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, Wrangel is no barren arctic wasteland. Apart from its Russian military base, the island has the world’s highest density of polar bear dens and Pacific walruses, more than 400 species of plants and 100 species of migratory birds, many endangered. It was home to the world’s last woolly mammoths, prehistoric creatures that survived there until a few thousand years ago. Indications are that what lies underground at Wrangel cannot be less valuable, including potentially large amounts of oil, gas and other minerals.

If Mr. Putin has forgotten this story, Joe Biden may well remember it. Thirty years ago, he moderated the Senate Foreign Relations Committee debate during which Sen. Frank Murkowski (R., Alaska) said a vote in favor of a 1991 U.S.-Russia border treaty would in no way affect potential future U.S. claims to the islands. Late. Jesse Helms (R., NC) also emphasized this, saying, “I doubt the State Department will use the opportunity to press American claims on the five islands — even if the right to do so is preserved.”

Today, that possibility has just made land.

Mr. Dans is co-founder and portfolio manager at Amberwave Partners, an investment manager. He served as an advisor to the US Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for International Affairs (2020-21) and as a commissioner of the US Arctic Research Commission (2021).

Russia insists Ukraine plans to use a ‘dirty bomb’, a charge that has been dismissed as a false flag operation, like the one underway at the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant. Photos: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP Composition: Mark Kelly

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