Local travels to celebration of Russian-American relations

Third section of conference was on history of Alaska

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007

The history of Russian-American relations is one which defines Alaska.

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An important international conference celebrating the bicentennial of the establishment of Russian-American diplomatic relations began on Nov. 8 in Moscow at the Academy of Sciences.

Six former Soviet and American Ambassadors took part. Leading scholars from America and Russia also were present.

Richard Pipes, the head of Russian studies at Harvard University, made the following statement which left the crowd speechless, "If only the Russians would give up their pretensions to be a great power, then our two countries would get along."

Pipes was followed by Sergey Rogov, the director of the USA and Canada Institute of Moscow, who said that there is a 50-50 chance of a new cold war between Russia and America. His statement was perhaps more understandable after the foolishness of Pipes.

At the end of the day, the conference moved to Spaso House, the official residence of William Burns, the U.S. ambassador of Russia. The little palace located near the central Moscow street Arbat, was given by Joseph Stalin to the United States upon the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 1932.

The featured speaker at Spaso House was the old cold warrior Henry Kissinger. Never a man who loved the Soviet Union, Henry has perhaps softened in his elder years.

Kissinger began by reminiscing that as a young soldier on the Elbe at the conclusion of World War II, for the first time, he met Soviet soldiers. His senior American officer crossed the bridge to celebrate with his Soviet counterpart. Much later in the evening, the American returned without his coat.

Kissinger, in his deep characteristic voice, made the conclusion, "From then on, I realized with whom we would be dealing."

The two-day conference was divided into three parts. The first section was U.S. Russian/Soviet diplomatic history.

The second section was the history of the United States and the development of American-Russian relations, with topics ranging from "Deborah Sampson, Cavalry Maiden of the American Revolution" by Svetlane Korotkova to "The Problem of Corruption in the USA in the 1850s and Public Opinion" by Tatyana Alentyeva. It always amazes me, regardless of politics, the great interest that Russians have for America.

The third, and in my biased opinion, most important section of the conference was the history of Russian-America, meaning Alaska. With the Russian discovery and control of Alaska for 126 years, it is needless to say that the history of our state defined Russian American relations long before the official establishment of diplomatic relations.

In 1795, the famous Russian navigator Yuri Lisianski who would co-command the first Russian circumnavigation of the earth and visit Alaska in 1804, met America's most famous citizen. In his diary, Lisianski wrote, "President Washington treated me so kindly that I must remain grateful to him until death, and must always say that there is no greater man on Earth. The simplicity of his life and his generosity touch the heart instantly."

In October 1803, the Boston fur trader, Joseph O'Cain sailed into St. Paul's harbor at Kodiak with desperately needed supplies. He had struck up a friendship with Russian Chief Manager Alexander Baranov two years before and promised to return to Kodiak to help provision the struggling colony. This was but one of many encounters between Americans and Russians on the Northwest Coast. The relationship was defined by commercial competition but also cooperation, not unlike today.

At the bicentennial conference in Moscow, I also was given the chance to speak, my topic being, "Yakobi Island, the Lost Village of Apolosovo and the Fate of the Chirikov Expedition," which describes the Russian discovery of Alaska in 1741 at Surge Bay on the outer coast of Southeast Alaska and the tragic loss of 15 men.

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