Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula is just a few miles across the Bering Strait from northwest Alaska, and indigenous peoples traditionally traveled back and forth across the strait. But the border between Alaska and Chukotka was essentially closed for decades, during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Then, in the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union and took steps to improve relations with the West.
Some Alaskans took that change as an opportunity to re-open ties with the Russian Far East. In his new book, Melting the Ice Curtain, David Ramseur describes these Alaskans as “citizen diplomats,” and tells the story of how cooperation at the individual level between Alaskans and Russians did for a time build better relations between Alaska and the Russian Far East. David Ramseur is currently a visiting scholar in public policy at ISER, but at the time of thawing Alaska-Russia relations, he was the press secretary for Steve Cowper, then governor of Alaska. He traveled to Provideniya, in the Chukotka region, on the 1988 Alaska Airlines “Friendship Flight,” which carried a group of Alaskans on a cultural exchange. Join us to hear him talk about this important time in Alaska-Russia relations.