If you look on any standard atlas, you would be forgiven for thinking that Russia is many thousands of miles away from the United States at its furthest point. If you look at a globe however, the story is very different indeed.
A traditional atlas might trick you into measuring points from the Western tip of Russia to the most easterly point of the United States, but if you reverse that method, you’ll get a very surprising answer.
From the most easterly part of western Russia to the eastern tip of Alaska, the countries are separated by a thin stretch of the Bering Straight and the distance between the two at this point is some 58 miles.
And, if you move off the mainland and onto the respective countries’ islands, the distance is much shorter. From Little Diomede off Alaska to Big Diomede off mainland Russia, the distance reduces to around two and a half miles, a distance short enough to allow you to literally see Russia from Alaska.
That’s a surprising statistic for many and it means that all in all, it takes about an hour to travel from Russia to the USA from their nearest points.
A Russian past
While indigenous settlers had been present in Alaska for centuries, it was first discovered by foreign eyes when members of the Russian navy arrived in 1741. From that point, Russia laid claim to Alaska but with its vast wilderness, it was of little use to them economically.
Conflict hastens a fear of loss
Although Russia hadn’t fully colonized Alaska, it was still regarded as a valuable commodity by all of its rulers.
By the time of the mid 19th century, Russia had found itself to be in a desperate financial position and it feared losing Alaska in a future war which would of course lead to no financial compensation.
Considering this to be a real possibility, the Tsar sought to open negotiations with Britain and with the United States with a view to a straightforward sale.
Moving to a financial conclusion
The British seemed decidedly indifferent to Russia’s proposals and initially, the United States were in the midst of their own Civil War. Once this was brought to an end however, the US seemed very approachable and therefore negotiations began in earnest.
Finally, in 1867, Alaska was sold to the US for a sum of $7.2m – a figure in excess of $1 billion in today’s money. It was officially known as the Alaska Purchase but also as ‘Seward’s folly’ in recognition of the US Secretary of State who sanctioned the purchase. Evidently many Americans were unimpressed by the acquisition of this barren land.
So when you ask how far is Alaska from Russia, the official answer is 2.5 miles but when you delve a little deeper into history, there are some fascinating facts to be learned about Alaska’s Russian past. The two countries are far, far closer than you might have thought.