Senate

Murkowski says federal response to Russians seeking asylum in Alaska ‘lacking’

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Greg Nash
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) leaves the Capitol following a series of two votes, including the final vote on the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government, on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday criticized what she called a “lacking” federal government response to two Russians who landed in her state earlier this week claiming asylum.

The two Russian nationals, who said they were escaping Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partial military mobilization that could call up to 300,000 reservists, arrived on a small boat on a remote Alaskan island on Tuesday, according to Murkowski’s office.

“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 in a statement. 

“Only local officials and state law enforcement had the capability to immediately respond to the asylum seekers, while Customs and Border Protection had to disspatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to get on scene,” she continued. “This situation underscores the need for a stronger security posture in America’s Arctic, which I have championed throughout my time in the Senate.”

Her home state colleague in the Senate, Dan Sullivan (R), said he learned about the Russians’ arrival on Tuesday morning and later spoke to Alejandro Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary, about the situation.

“I continue to be in regular communication with DHS Secretary Mayorkas and officials at Customs and Border Protection and have encouraged them to have a plan ready with the Coast Guard in the event that more Russians flee to Bering Strait communities in Alaska,” Sullivan said. 

The Alaska Republican added that he and Murkowski are pushing for a prioritization of infrastructure and strategic defense asset capabilities in the Arctic in the case of more migrant arrivals.

“This incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Sullivan continued. “Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in securing America’s national security.”

The Hill has reached out to a DHS spokesperson for comment.

The two Russian nationals’ arrivals come after Putin announced he would call up to 300,000 reservists to bolster the country’s military force in Ukraine. 

Thousands of Russians subsequently looked to flee the country, creating delays at land borders and skyrocketing international flight prices.

Putin’s announcement came after Russian troops in the weeks prior faced steep territorial losses, which primarily began in the northeast but has now led to additional Ukrainian gains in the south since Putin’s announcement.

This week, Putin signed a law formally annexing four Ukrainian territories in the country’s east and south after it was approved by the Russian legislature but condemned harshly by U.S. and Western officials, who characterized the move as an illegal land grab.

But the absorption includes regions in which Ukrainians have reclaimed territory even since the annexation announcement, and it remains unclear exactly where Russia will draw its land claim.

Tags Alaska Alejandro Mayorkas asylum seekers Dan Sullivan Dan Sullivan Lisa Murkowski Lisa Murkowski Russia Russia-Ukraine war U.S. Customs and Border Protection United States Coast Guard United States Department of Homeland Security Vladimir Putin

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