Russians flee by boat to Alaska

Two Russian nationals landed by boat on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea on Thursday and are seeking asylum. The Russians were fleeing President Vladimir Putin’s call-up of the military reservist program.

This incident highlights to what extreme some Russians have gone to avoid a mobilization of up to 300,000 as Putin’s military, having suffered heavy losses in Ukraine. The Russian army has recently made multiple retreats due to an aggressive offensive push by Ukrainian forces. It’s been estimated that 200,000 Russians have fled since the call-up.

The two arrived this week at a beach near Gambell on the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island, about 40 miles from mainland Russia.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said the incident had exposed a need for greater security in the Arctic, where Russian military ships and aircraft have increasingly shown their presence.

“We are actively engaged with federal officials and residents in Gambell to determine who these individuals are, but right now, we already know that the federal response was lacking,” Murkowski said. “Only local officials and state law enforcement had the capability to immediately respond to the asylum seekers, while Customs and Border Protection had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to get on scene.”

The Coast Guard referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which said the Russians were transported to Anchorage for processing.

Sullivan said in a statement that the incident made clear that “the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”