Alaskan legislators, trying to block the U.S. government’s
controversial treaty ceding to Russia eight islands belonging to Alaska,
now have one more reason to fight — in addition to sovereignty, state’s
rights and the fishing industry — namely, oil.
“The issues involve not only state sovereignty over vital territories
but also significant national defense concerns and substantial economic
losses over fisheries and petroleum,” said
Alaska state Rep. John B.
Coghill, R-Dist. 32. The U.S. State Department cannot continue to allow further encroachment of Alaska’s states rights and valuable economic resources.”
The Senate ratified the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Maritime Boundary Treaty in 1991, which was then signed by President George Bush. The Alaska House and Senate were never consulted during the treaty’s negotiations, however, and recently have teamed up with the governor to send a strong message of protest to President Bill Clinton, without apparent effect, however.
Alaska is believed to have some of the largest oil fields in the world. Much of Alaska’s oil cannot be pumped, however, because of wilderness designations placed on much of Alaskan land, said Coghill, who believes access to vast oil fields may now be lost to Russia if the transfer is not reversed.
Earlier this year,
WorldNetDaily reported that, according to national security advisers on Capitol Hill, oil ministers from OPEC nations had quietly confided to them that oil production cutbacks — and resulting price increases — had been implemented at the request of the Clinton administration on behalf of Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Iran.
The idea was that higher oil prices would help Russia, a major oil exporter, to generate funds to get out of massive debt and rebuild the Russian economy.
Carl Olson, chairman of State Department Watch, a public interest group, agreed that Russia benefits greatly from the increase in gasoline and oil prices.
“Russia is one of the largest oil-producing nations in the world. Guess who’s benefiting greatly from this run-up in oil prices? The Russian oligarchs in Moscow who stick all their money in Swiss bank accounts. They love this thing. They’ve got giant lobbyists in Washington,” said Olson.
“If you look at the worldwide scheme of things in terms of production and oil purchasing, there’s been a gigantic leap up in prices for no good reason for the American consuming public. What we have to do is look at who’s getting rich in all of this — big oil companies and big governments,” he said.
Oil, oil everywhere
“Think about this,” said Olson. “If you had just one island with only one square mile and you drew a 200 mile circle around it, do you know that’s 125,000 square miles of potential sea bottom for oil exploration?
“It’s totally anti-public, anti-Congress, anti-state actions — but unfortunately the State Department thinks it has the power to adopt this boundary line with the Russians without anybody’s consent outside themselves,” he said.
Alaska H.J.R. 27, a resolution that was passed in the state’s House and Senate then enacted by Alaska Gov. John Knowles in 1999. It was intended to “require the federal government to begin a new dialogue with Russia over the disputed maritime borders, insuring that Alaska is sitting at the negotiating table, as well as prevent the impending giveaway of eight Alaskan islands,” said Coghill.
A resolution is not binding, but rather expresses the will of a legislative body, so the Alaska resolution isn’t binding on Congress.
“They have not responded in any way,” Coghill said.
Negotiations between the State Department and the Soviet Union began in 1990 when a proposed treaty agreement was drafted. The federal government has honored that agreement — which changed boundaries — even though it has never been fully ratified and the Soviet Union no longer exists.
“It’s an unratified treaty with a non-entity,” quipped Coghill.
The United States-U.S.S.R. Maritime Boundary moved the line between Russia and Alaska in such a way that eight islands that were specified as part of Alaska when it was purchased from Russia would become part of Russia once again.
The State of Alaska was not included in the negotiations at the time of the agreement, or at any time since, complains Coghill.
“There were representatives of the Fish and Game present to answer questions,” he said, “but there was never any opportunity for input.” Coghill’s resolution demands official representatives from Alaska be present and have authority to participate in any further negotiations.
The agreement transfers to Russia the islands of Wrangell, Herald, Bennett, Henrietta, and Jeannette Islands in the Arctic, and Copper Island, Sea Lion Rock, and Sea Otter Rock on the west end of the Aleutian chain.
The problem, say Coghill and his colleagues in the Alaska legislature, is that it gives Russia access to vast oil and fishing areas without any compensation to Alaska.
There has been a long history of disputes over which country owns the islands, particularly Wrangell Island, which is about the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. According to credible reports, Russia used it for a concentration camp until recently.
Alaska claims the islands on the basis of the original sale agreement for Alaska and other transactions.
The U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 and the sale included all Aleutian Islands, including Copper, Sea Otter Rock, and Sea Lion Rock. In 1881, U.S. Capt. Calvin L. Hooper landed on Wrangell Island and claimed it for the U.S. Also in 1881, the U.S. Navy claimed the islands of Bennett, Jeannette, and Henrietta. The British held Herald Island, but they gave up that claim permitting the U.S. to take it.
Russia’s claim over the boundary may soon reach a court of law.
“Just last week we boarded a vessel that crossed the boundary — and that’s going to be disputed,” said Coghill, referring to a Russian ship that was recently stopped in waters claimed by Alaska. The action may take the boundary dispute out of the hands of politicians and place it in the courts.
Have the islands been handed over to Russia yet by the U.S. government?
“That’s not an easy answer,” said Coghill. “There has been an acquiescence to Russia, yes. There has been no extinquishment of any legitimate claim that we (Alaskans) might have. It has been blindly ignored by our Congress.”
On June 1, 1990, then-Secretary of State James Baker signed a secret executive agreement with Eduard Shevardnadze, the former U.S.S.R. foreign minister. It specified that even though the treaty had not been ratified, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed to abide by the terms of the treaty beginning June 15, 1990.
Coghill said the existence of the agreement, which is described in his resolution, is now well known by Alaskan and U.S. elected officials. At the time the treaty was presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, the existence of the secret agreement was not made known, he said.
Although the Senate ratified the treaty and President George Bush signed it in 1991, the Soviet Union never ratified it, nor has Russia. Russians have always claimed they did not benefit enough from the boundaries offered in the treaty.
The State Department is engaged in negotiations with Russia to change the boundaries specified in the unratified treaty even further, claims Coghill, who further says he doesn’t know the status of those negotiations because the State Department is not responding to Alaskan officials on the issue.
Russia is asking to move the boundary line in such a way that an additional 40,000 square miles of ocean and seabed would belong to Russia. That would yield 300,000 pounds of fish per year — fish that are normally harvested by Alaskan fishermen. If the transfer were made, Alaska would not be compensated for the loss, according to Coghill.
Alaska’s resolution demands new negotiations start back at the beginning, before the treaty was formed.
“Along with the maritime issue, this needs to be discussed as well. Alaska needs to be in on it because, number one, it’s a significant part of the fishing part of the world. Secondly, we have a legitimate historical claim that has not ever been addressed,” Coghill said.
The resolution demands that:
- the Clinton administration start new negotiations.
- Alaska be a full participant in any negotiations with Russia.
- the State Department stop all negotiations that give fishing rights to Russia.
- illegal acts involving the effort to transfer land to Russia be prosecuted.
Although the resolution has been in the hands of Clinton, members of Congress and the State Department for more than a year, it has been ignored, Coghill says.
The California legislature unanimously passed a resolution in support of Alaska in 1991, asking U.S. senators from California not to consider the treaty until Alaska “has been able to participate fully in negotiations and has been guaranteed that its consent will be required for any agreement affecting its boundaries.”
Coghill hopes U.S. citizens will call on their state legislatures to approve similar resolutions, saying all states should be concerned “because if they can do this to Alaska, they can do this to any state.”
Olson said the U.S. government has prevented oil companies from drilling by declaring areas of Alaska and other parts of the U.S. as wilderness areas. But the U.S. has more than enough oil to supply its own needs and export oil as well, he says.
“The wholesale price of gasoline today is a very easy thing to look up in the Wall Street Journal because they run it every day. For unleaded standard regular gas it’s $.89 a gallon, but it’s selling for $1.75 to $2 a gallon. Somebody’s making a ton of dough here and it’s split up between the oil companies and the government,” said Olson.
Olson called on all presidential candidates to make a statement on where they stand and what they will do if elected.
“It shows whether they are on the public’s side, or if they are on the inside-the-beltway side. Every single presidential campaign has been approached by us and we’re still waiting for them to address this in public.”