‘Cultural diplomacy’: Russian America holiday proposed by Defense Ministry to promote ‘humanitarian cooperation’
In a move that may rattle some Russia-watchers in the US, the Russian Defense Ministry suggested establishing a new holiday, the Russian America Day. The new honorary date may be set in Russia as soon as 2020.
Imperial Russia was one of European nations that went to explore and colonize the New World. Geography dictated that its primary interest was in North America’s Pacific Coast, with Russian settlements dotting Alaska and going as far as Fort Ross in California and Fort Elizabeth in Hawaii.
The Russian-American Company, which was created in 1799, served as the vehicle for spreading Russian interests in North America, first on behalf of big Siberian merchants and later directed by the imperial military and civilian bureaucracy.
Maintaining colonies overseas however was ultimately deemed too costly and risky. In 1867 Alaska was famously sold out to what is now called the USA, partially to cover a significant budget deficit Russia had at the time. The company’s leadership, notably, learned about the deal after the fact, a sign of how its influence had dwindled over the decades. The next year it was disbanded.
Now, the Russian Defense Ministry wants the date when the company was signed into existence by Tsar Paul I, July 19, to become Russian America Day. This symbolic recognition of historic connection “will promote the development of Russian-American relations in the sphere of cultural diplomacy and humanitarian cooperation,” the ministry said when submitting the proposal for public discussion earlier on Monday.
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The initiative is go through a lengthy process of discussion and approval. If all goes according to plan, the new honorary date in Russian calendar would be established by President Vladimir Putin sometime in January 2020.
Coming from the Russian military, it will likely be taken as yet another act of ‘hybrid warfare’ by DC pundits. But some bridge-building is desperately needed between Moscow and Washington. Earlier this month, a Russian MP, who was travelling to a conference – ironically, named after Fort Ross – was questioned by the FBI at a US airport.
It angered the Russian Foreign Ministry which accused US intelligence services of harassing Russian officials, especially since some of her fellow lawmakers couldn’t go to the event at all after the US refused to issue visas to them.
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