Alaska has only belonged to the U.S. for about 150 years – indeed, before 1867, that huge expanse of northern territory belonged to the Russian Empire.
And, now some ultra-conservative members of the Russian Orthodox church would like it back.
The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Pchyolki -- a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox group -- filed a lawsuit in a Moscow arbitrage court in which they claim that U.S. President Barack Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage invalidates the terms of the 1867 sale of Alaska.
The suit was actually filed in January but only came to light recently.
In 1867, the Russians sold Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million (or about two cents an acre). (That translates to about $104 million in 2012 dollars).
Pchyolki is an ultra-nationalist organization that has condemned “blasphemers” like the punk rock girl group Pussy Riot and advocated violence against those who would offend the church. Formed in 2008, Pchyolki has also agitated against teaching sex education in Russian schools.
In its court filings, Pchyolki stated that the U.S. government’s purchase of Alaska was illegal for a number of reasons – including that the contract stipulated payment should be made in gold coins, while Washington simply signed a check.
With respect to the Alaska issue, however, Pchyolki seems primarily motivated by their hatred of homosexuality. The suit cites that Obama’s sudden embrace of gay marriage violates the rights and religious freedoms of Orthodox Christians in Alaska, which they estimate make up some 50,000 of Alaska’s total population of 730,000.
The Orthodox residents of Alaska "would never accept sin for normal behavior," the group declared in the suit.
“We see it as our duty to protect their right to freely practice their religion, which allows no tolerance to sin.”
In an interview with Vice.com, Nikolay Bondarenko, the leader of Pchyolki, said that if Alaska were ever returned to Russia, the American citizens now living there would have three years to move to other parts of the U.S., or remain in Alaska as Russia citizens.
In any case, the $7.2 million paid for Alaska was quite a bargain for the U.S. Alaska now has an annual GDP of some $46 billion.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.