Today, the “Russkiy Mir” Google Group distributed to its list an article that among other things declares that the US owes its independence to Russian non-interference, its victory in the Civil War because of a Russian fleet visit, and its control of Alaska not because of a nineteenth century but because Nikita Khrushchev “gave” it to Washington.
The email, which contains an article that first appeared here and has been reposted a number of times since, provides a version of history which has just enough in common with reality to be plausible for many Russians and others who are not familiar with what in fact happened.
As such, it is a classical example of disinformation, a form a propaganda which combines things that are true with others that are not to misinform or lead to actions and to prompt those who equate objectivity with “balance” to report the arguments made as part of a debate and thus lend them a credibility they could not achieve otherwise.
The unsigned article begins: “About the sale of Alaska, thousands of myths are circulating. Many suppose that Catherine II sold it. The official version says that Alaska was sold at the direction of Tsar Alexander II by Baron Eduard Andeyevich Stockel who received from the US finance ministry several checks for the total sum of 7.2 million dollars.”
“However,” the article continues, “this money never reached Russia.” And then it asks, “did it ever exist?” noting that “there exists the opinion of a number of historians [unnamed] who consider that Alaska was not sold but was only rented to the US for 90 years. That lease ended in 1957.”
The article distributed today by “Russkiy mir” says that it will consider “this version.” And that is just what it does, implying that “this version” is superior to others and that it is the one Russians should believe in and perhaps act upon now.
According to the article, the Russian explorers in Alaska banned the sale of vodka, protected animals, and ensured the survival of native peoples, all in sharp contrast to the depradations visited upon the region by European conquerors.
It then asserts that “thanks to the non-interference of Russia, the separation of the colonies from England took place,” a description of the American Revolutionary War with which few would find much in common with reality.
The article then says that Russia as “a great power” “hoped for the gratitude of the new state. But in 1819, US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams declared that all states in the world must come to terms with the thought that the continent of North America was a territory only for the United States.” And in 1821 the US Congress noted “the danger for the interests” of the US of “colonization by Russians of the northwest coast of America, Alaska and California.”
In the same year, a ban by Alexander I of foreign shipping near the Russian settlements in North America “called forth among the Americans a storm of protest.” But after some back and forth, an agreement was signed in St. Petersburg in 1824 defining the eastern border of Alaska.
Thus, the situation remained until the American Civil War broke out. At that time, President Abraham Lincoln asked Tsar Alexander II for assistance. In response, the tsar “through his ambassadors” informed the French and British that any interference by them in the American conflict would be considered “a declaration of war” against Russia.
To underline Russian support for the North, the tsar dispatched the Russian fleet to New York and San Francisco with orders to attack “any fleet which threatened the northern states.” Despite this, the article continues, no one seemed to reflect that “Russia has in fact saved America.”
Lincoln had planned to compensate Russia for its assistance, and after his death, Washington and St. Petersburg reached an agreement about the transfer of funds for what the article says was a 90-year American lease on Alaska. But “no one in Russia received” the agreed upon sum, and questions remain as to whether it was ever paid.
“Today,” the article continues, “it is not a secret for anyone that history is an inexact science and that each government rewrites it for itself.” But even if there was an agreement to sell Russian Alaska, can anyone be certain that it was genuine?”
And in a demonstration of the idea that each country “rewrites” its own history, the article says that when the lease ran out in 1957, the US offered “a very good sum” to extend it. “But Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev,” who had already in current Russian thinking given away Crimea to Ukraine, “gave [Alaska] to America,” and it then became the 49th US state.
But whatever the details of the transaction were, “the fact itself that the Russian land of Alaska turned out to be part of the territory of the US calls forth enormous doubts.”