Are US and Russia Fighting Over Wrangel Island?

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Few realize the value of Wrangel Island. Location, location, location-the relator credo-optimum for any piece of property.

Wrangel Island is a frozen, almost uninhabited wasteland island in the Arctic Ocean. It’s 90 miles north of Siberia and 300 miles northwest of Point Hope, Alaska, and only as large as Delaware and Rhode Island, combined.

Wrangel by itself is of almost no economic worth. But its huge importance is starting to be realized. It’s the closest land to a vast amount of the Arctic Ocean. Estimations now are the Arctic is estimated to hold 25 percent of the world’s recoverable oil and gas. And America has just recently vaulted into the world’s lead as the major oil and gas producer.

Wrangel Island
Map showing the location of the Chukchi Sea. Modified map based on map en::commons:Image:Chukchi Sea map.png created by NormanEinstein, May 31, 2006.

Only covering 2900 square miles in the Arctic Ocean, Wrangel Island was the most unlikely place on earth where woolly mammoths survived. There, until 2500-2000 BC, Wrangel Island was the last place to find mammoths. Isolated from the mainland, there were 500 to 1000 mammoths living there.

Vladimir Putin recently stated he wants to expand Russia’s presence in the Arctic, both militarily and economically. He wanted to control this Arctic oil-rich region, after Russia planted a flag there.

Putin stated Russia’s nuclear deterrent will be key in his defense strategy: “First of all, we are talking about creating a rational series of assault capabilities, including maintaining a guaranteed solution to the task of nuclear deterrence.”

Possession of Wrangel Island sounds like a spoon-fed excuse to start a nuclear escalation.

Wrangel was purchased by the U.S., when Alaska was purchased in 1867. The purchase price agreed by U.S. Secretary of State Seward was considered so large Alaska was mocked as “Seward’s Folly,” until gold and oil were discovered years later.

An American party from the USRC Corwin landed on Wrangel Island in 1881. They claimed it for the U.S., and planted the American flag. With environmentalist John Muir, Founder-Sierra Club, published his epic account of the expedition to Wrangel Island.

Russia’s claim on Wrangel Island dates back to 1924, but America’s claim dates back to 1881. Unfortunately, the U.S. shamefully failed to defend their prior claim against Russia’s newer claim. In 1990, James Baker tried to talk to Gorbachev to give the island to the collapsing USSR, but it was never completed nor ratified by the Russian Duma before the USSR dissolved in 1991.

Americans had already beat the Russians to the North Pole. In 1909 Adm. Robert Peary, after a savage trek with dogs and sleds over miles of ice, triumphantly wrote: “I have this day hoisted the national ensign of the United States of America at this place, which my observations indicate to be the North Polar axis of the earth, and have formally taken possession of the entire region, and adjacent, for and in the name of the President of the United States of America.”

It’s clear Peary’s claim was reconstituted when the USS Nautilus reached the pole in 1958. Even the Canadian foreign minister expressed strong disagreement of Russia claiming Wrangel Island for themselves.

The Minister told Russia they could not expect to claim territory under “15th century rules,” while Russians believed territory rights only applied to them. They even claimed Neil Armstrong had no ‘right’ to the moon after his historic walk and ‘flag planting.’

But the U.S. shamefully failed to defend their claim against Russia’s more recent one. In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker tried to make a deal with Gorbachev to give the island to the collapsing USSR. The agreement was never completed before its dissolution. Most importantly, it was never ratified by the Russian Duma.

Bottom line, eight Arctic islands allegedly Russian controlled along with Wrangel Island, were first claimed by the U.S. The USSR/US Maritime Boundary Treaty had never been approved by the Russian Duma. Russia never addressed who actually owned these islands, and never its maritime boundaries.