Alaskan Islands Belong to Russia? A Conversation with Joe Miller

A story this week in a World Net Daily opinion piece by former Republican U.S. Senate Candidate for Alaska, Joe Miller, has received huge attention from the blogosphere. I have spent some time on the telephone with Mr. Miller and want to pass on the new information clarified by him and other sources. The bottom line is, Russia has not ratified the proposed treaty thus, the US Senate’s 1990 consent to it can be withdrawn. Information about the Alaskan legislature’s attempt to redeem land they believe belongs to Alaska is at the bottom of this article. For reference, my original article is here.

The purported Agreement for the “island giveaway” was and is not a ratified treaty according to the public record. The official name (as shown on the document) is Agreement between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the maritime boundary, 1 June 1990. However, you’ll see below that the U.S. State Department in 2009 refers to it as a Treaty.

Before going farther, it’s important to note the reason this Agreement has been brought forward at this time, with accusations following that this is ‘nothing,’ not important…even that the agreement is a myth. The Agreement exists, signed by a U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in 1990 and ratified by Congress in June 1990, and signed by President G. H. W. Bush. Russia has not signed on, originally declaring that they would receive too little from it.

Secondly, it is important to know that the Agreement was negotiated completely in secret as far as we know. It began with Henry Kissinger when he was Secretary of State under President Gerald Ford. Ford left office in 1977. The U.S. ratification didn’t happen until June 1, 1990 under President G. H. W. Bush. ‘Ratification’ does not mean that Congress created legislation. It means that an ‘agent’ presented the language and Congress ‘ratified’ (consented to) it.

Today, there are those in U.S. political circles, and especially in Alaska, who want the Agreement to be declared null and void, by whatever action it takes for the U.S. Congress to do so. Efforts are in the works to try to make that happen, so that is why these islands, whether 5 or 7 or 8, are being discussed.

First came the 1867 Treaty wherein the U.S. purchased what was then Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, an area about twice the size of Texas. Article 1 in the 1990 Agreement refers to Article 1 of the 1867 Treaty/Convention:

From the 1990 Agreement:

Article 1
1. The Parties agree that the line described as the “western limit” in article 1 of the 1867 Convention, as defined in article 2 of this Agreement, is the maritime boundary between the United States and the Soviet Union.

2. Each Party shall respect the maritime boundary as limiting the extent of its coastal State jurisdiction otherwise permitted by international law for any purpose.

From the 1867 Treaty/Convention:

Article I
His Majesty the emperor of all the Russias agrees to cede to the United States, by this convention, immediately upon the exchange of the ratifications thereof, all the territory and dominion now possessed by his said Majesty on the continent of America and in the adjacent islands, the same being contained within the geographical limits herein set forth, to wit:

The eastern limit is the line of demarcation between the Russian and the British possessions in North America, as established by the convention between Russia and Great Britain, of February 28-16, 1825, and described in Articles III and IV of said convention, in the following terms:…(beginning at the pertinent information for this article)

[ceded to the U.S.] …thence, from the intersection of that meridian, in a southwesterly direction, so as to pass midway between the island of Attou and Copper island of the Kormandorski cuplet or group in the North Pacific ocean, to the meridian of one hundred and ninety-three degrees west longitude, so as to include the territory conveyed the whole of the Aleutian islands east of that meridian.

At this point, it appears that Copper Island belongs to Russia. Copper is one of the islands disputed by Alaska. Russia wanted Bering Island almost adjacent to Copper. I think I’m correct in saying the 1867 Treaty made sure that Bering went to Russia. Both Bering and Copper are a part of the Commander Islands.

At several places I have read that the boundary line went between Bering and Copper Islands with Copper on the eastern and considered U.S. property. Here is one such statement by State Department Watch (I am not familiar with this site and cannot vouch for the information, but they have compiled quite a history. I recommend you go to them for much more detail):

Copper Island, Sea Lion Rock and Sea Otter Rock: These islands in the Bering Sea were acquired in 1867 from Russia. The treaty’s Article I language states, “…to the meridian of one hundred and ninety-three degrees west longitude [167 east], so as to include in the territory conveyed the whole of the Aleutian islands east of that meridian.” That meridian runs between Copper and Bering Islands at the westernmost end of the Aleutian islands. [See 1867 Treaty.]”

The following is the State Department Watch map showing the boundary running between Bering and Copper. Look for the arrow on the left side that says “Copper Island, Sea Otter and Sea Lion Rocks.” The arrow points to a slash mark – that’s Copper and then a finger that is Bering Island. I believe the slash tracks running between the two islands show Copper on the U.S. side. Then look below to the next text that says “These Western and Eastern special areas are based on Russian sovereignty on Copper Island.”


If I understand it correctly, State Department Watch has said the boundary runs between the two islands, putting Copper on the east side, but the map says Copper is based on Russian sovereignty. Perhaps the 200 nautical miles requirement that you’ll see below, has something to do with it.

The coordinates mean nothing to me. I’ll just say that Copper Island and the adjacent rocks have miles of rich sea beds.

From 1990 Agreement:

Article 2
1. From the initial point, 65° 30′ N., 168° 58′ 37″ W., the maritime boundary extends north along the 168° 58′ 37″ W. meridian through the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea into the Arctic Ocean as far as permitted under international law.

2. From the same initial point, the maritime boundary extends southwestward and is defined by lines connecting the geographic positions set forth in the Annex, which is an integral part of this Agreement.

3. All geographic positions are defined in the World Geodetic System 1984 (“WGS 84”) and, except where noted, are connected by geodetic lines. (Read the entire agreement here)

[eyes glazed over]

In the 1990 Agreement the U.S. agreed that in any area east of the maritime boundary (the U.S. side) that lies within 200 nautical miles of the baselines of the territorial sea of the United States (known as Eastern Special Area) the United States is allowed to exercise its sovereign rights and jurisdiction as an exclusive economic zone.

On the west side of the boundary, known as the Russian side and the ‘Western Special Area,’ Russia is allowed to exercise its sovereign rights and jurisdiction as an exclusive economic zone.

In the June 1, 1990 Agreement, James Baker takes the “honor” to say that once the Agreement is in force, both governments will consider the boundary as in effect as of June 15, 1990. Russia did not sign. The Agreement has not taken effect.

Factions in Alaska wants the 1990 Agreement, that is a non-agreement, struck down or modified.

The above map was used in Joe Miller’s World Net Daily article. You can see Copper Island. The spot just above it and slightly to the left is Bering Island. This line clearly shows Copper on the west side (Russian territory) unless the 200 nautical mile from U.S. shores puts it in U.S. control

Wrangell Island: On August 12, 1881 a landing party off-loaded onto Wrangell Island from the  USRC (US Revenue Cutter) Corwin, and under the command of Calvin Hooper, claimed the island for the U.S. and named it New Columbia. John Muir, a Scottish-American was aboard the ship and is believed to be the first to describe Wrangell in writing. Later in 1881 the USS Rodgers landed on Wrangell.

In 1916 Tsarist Russia claimed Wrangell. In 1921 a Canadian team tried to make a claim for Wrangell. A group was left on the island, of which only an Alaskan woman hired as a cook and seamstress, survived. She lived alone on Wrangell for two years before being rescued by another Canadian. American Charles Wells was on the rescue ship and stayed on Wrangell along with 13 Intuits. In 1924 Russia removed Wells and the Intuits. In 1926 Russia, in some manner “reconfirmed” ownership of Wrangell. In 1926 a team of Russians landed with supplies and stayed (all of the above Wrangell information comes from Wikipedia – so take it for what it is)

From the U.S. State Department website dated September 8, 2009 (snippets):

The U.S.-USSR Maritime Boundary Agreement was signed in 1990. The negotiations that led to that agreement did not address the status of Wrangel Island, Herald Island, Bennett Island, Jeannette Island, or Henrietta Island, all of which lie off Russia’s Arctic coast, or Mednyy (Copper) Island or rocks off the coast of Mednyy Island in the Bering Sea. None of the islands or rocks above were included in the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, and they have never been claimed by the United States, although Americans were involved in the discovery and exploration of some of them…

The Russian Federation informed the United States Government by diplomatic note dated January 13, 1992, that it “continues to perform the rights and fulfill the obligations flowing from the international agreements” signed by the Soviet Union.

So there’s that. Russia has informed the U.S. that it “continues to perform” its rights without signing the Agreement, which the State Department says is a “treaty,” but not titled so and not ratified by Russia.

Some in Alaska and the U.S. Congress believe the U.S. has ownership of Wrangell. How much interest there is in fighting it out over Wrangell which lies to the north, I don’t know. The DeLong islands consisting of Jeannette, Bennett and Henrietta are in the same area, close to Siberia.

There has been disagreement over, according to which map the boundary line was drawn. Neither side can produce the original maps used in the Agreement. Amazing! Appalling!

The Alaskan 21st Legislature passed a joint resolution dated 1999-2000. They state that the state was not consulted in any way, did not consent in any way [snippets]:

WHEREAS the maritime boundary described in the proposed treaty agreement places 08 on the U.S.S.R. side the following eight islands and their entire territorial seas and seabeds: 09 Wrangell, Herald, Bennett, Henrietta, and Jeannette Islands in the Arctic, and Copper Island, 10 Sea Lion Rock, and Sea Otter Rock on the west end of the Aleutian Chain; and 11 WHEREAS the maritime boundary described in the proposed treaty agreement 12 delimits the territorial sea and seabeds of Little Diomede Island at less than the normal 3-mile 13 or 12-mile extent; and 14 WHEREAS Alaska has sovereignty and potential or actual property interests in these 01 islands and their territorial seas and seabeds; and 02 WHEREAS the Fifteenth Alaska State Legislature unanimously passed Senate Joint 03 Resolution 12, which requested that a representative of Alaska be included in the United States 04 Department of State’s negotiations on setting a maritime boundary between Alaska and the 05 Soviet Union; however, a reply was never received from the United States Department of 06 State, and a representative of Alaska was never included in the negotiations; and 07 WHEREAS the views of 28 bipartisan members of the Alaska House of 08 Representatives and eight bipartisan members of the Alaska Senate were expressed on the 09 proposed treaty agreement in a letter dated May 17, 1991, to Senator Joseph Biden, Jr., of the 10 United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, stating in part: 11 “We firmly believe United States interests and Alaskan interests are at stake 12 and in jeopardy in the proposed treaty. . .

No Alaskan official has ever been 13 invited to participate in the treaty negotiations, in spite of abiding Alaskan 14 interests in fisheries, petroleum and other potential continental shelf resources 15 and the considerations of navigation in the area. In the entire history of the 16 treaty negotiations, Alaska has had no official voice. Alaska has not been fully 17 consulted in the entire matter. . . It is our purpose to urgently recommend that 18 the presently-proposed treaty not be ratified by the U.S. Senate, and that 19 negotiations be continued to include appropriate Alaskan officials and current 20 United States and Alaskan historic, territorial, and resource interests”

There’s more. Read it here. At this link, you’ll see a letter from Alaska State Representative John Coghill to State Department Watch, thanking them for their participation.

In 1987 the Chicago Tribune  got wind of it, and didn’t like it, saying it was the “most serious foreign policy blunder since the Panama Canal giveaway.”

Look at this from the BBC dated September 2004 – just coming off of a Sustainable Development Conference – the world call foul:

The Baker-Shevardnadze line was immediately ratified by the US Congress, but the Soviet Union refused to do so because “it infringed Russia’s national interests”, the paper recalls.

Opponents of the agreement claim the deal handed the Americans an area whose stocks of the Alaskan pollack fish are worth $200m.

It also gave US nearly 50,000 sq km of mineral-rich continental shelf.

According to the Trud, the majority of Russian maps do not show the demarcation line.

“Moreover, this has not prevented the Americans from unilaterally tracking and detaining our fishing vessels, even in the buffer zone,” it claims.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta says the dispute has “every chance of becoming a major international scandal”.

Fishing is a big issue to Alaska, right now, and is part of the angst of the giveaway.

One of World Net Daily’s articles addressing these island is here, written by David M. Bresnahan, dated October 7, 2000. Visit Joe Miller’s Restoring Liberty here. Read his WND opinion piece here.

What we learn from this story is that a Secretary of State can engineer giving away sovereign land with no input from the U.S. Congress or the state holding ownership. The other side is, if the co-ordinates of the 1867 Treaty referring to the “western” and “eastern” boundaries clearly put all of the disputed islands on the Russian side, that’s a problem for the U.S. But then…apparently the style of map used can make a difference and the maps are no where to be found, and the style of map is not named. AND there are the explorers who claimed these islands for the U.S. AND Russia has not ratified. AND how about the  unconfirmed ‘rumors’ that the Obama administration is working to get Russia’s signature on the 1990 Agreement? One last question: if the 1867 Treaty set out the boundaries, why did we need the 1990 Agreement?

Linked at Grumpy Opinions in Finally, the entire story of the Alaskan GiveAway – thank you!

Thanks to Grumpy Opinions for linking in Who is the Department of State Really Working for?

Linked at Noisy Room – thanks Terresa!

Linked by The Lonely Conservative – thanks Karen!

Thanks to Arlen at GulagBound for linking!

Posted by Maggie @ Maggie’s Notebook