Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chukchi Autonomous District -- What Alaska Might Be if Russia Hadn’t Sold It to US

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – The disastrous situation with regard to roads, the economy and human existence in the Chukchi Autonomous District, located just opposite the Bering Straits for Alaska, is a reminder of what that US state might have become had it remained the property of the Russian Empire rather than being sold in 1867.

            This week, officials in the autonomy announced the opening of winter automobile roads in several places, the only way many people there have of reaching the outside world by ground, and roads that are anything but reliable in a place where winter lasts nine months of the year, just as it does in much of Alaska (

            Chukotka, with an area of 737,700 square kilometers and just over 50,000 residents, has a much lower population and road density than does neighboring Alaska where there are 663,000 people and almost 2,000 kilometers of interstate highways alone, a difference reflecting the very different policies of Moscow and Washington and affecting the two populations very differently. 

            There are only 2,938 kilometers of roadways in Chukotka, most unpaved and nearly 80 percent needing repairs.  There are in addition, 1320 km of winter roads that in fact are used all year long and 1135 that are used only in winter.  Many don’t go very far: There are 82 bridges for them, but almost half – 42 – are collapsing or too dangerous for use.

            Worse, and again in contrast to Alaska, Chukotka doesn’t have land connections to its neighboring regions, even though Moscow officials have been talking about building one for decades.  And also in contrast to the US state, 29 of the 37 population points in Chukotka don’t have any paved roads in them at all.

             Aviation links have largely collapsed as well, making it extremely difficult for residents to get medical help especially given “the optimization” – a euphemism for closure – of many medical points during Putin’s time.  And so even with its enormous reserves of natural resources, Chukchi land remains cut off and poor.

            That is what those who can see Russia from Alaska in fact see, and the After Empire portal concludes that “if the Russian Empire had not sold Alaska in a timely fashion to the United States, that neighboring territory might have had the same fate.”

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