Two Russians who crossed the Bering Strait and landed on western Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island earlier this week, had sought asylum to avoid Russia’s draft in its ongoing war against Ukraine.
“The Russian nationals reported that they fled one of the coastal communities on Russia’s east coast to avoid mandatory military service,” said Karina Borger, a spokeswoman for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The individuals were transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes screening and vetting, and were then processed in accordance with US immigration laws, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security told CNN.
The Russian embassy in Washington said its diplomats will hold a “telephone conversation” with the two male citizens, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
The couple’s arrival in Gambell, Alaska, follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call last month for the “partial mobilization” of the country’s population, which led to an exodus of Russian men out of the country by cars queuing to cross the border into neighboring Finland, Georgia and Mongolia.
Protests over the draft have erupted in ethnic minority regions and some military recruitment offices have been set on fire. The mobilization announcement also led to anti-war protests across Russia.
The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, meanwhile, is faltering, with an aggressive withdrawal by Kyiv’s forces, including in regions the Kremlin claims to have annexed in violation of international law. Experts have previously warned that some troops serving in Russia’s war are already struggling with low morale and equipment problems – and that newly mobilized soldiers risk rushing to the front with inadequate training.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said during a news conference Wednesday night that the arrivals had been a surprise and that officials “do not expect a continuous flow of individuals”
“We have no indication that it’s going to happen, so this might be a one-off,” the Republican governor said, warning of a storm hitting areas of northwest Alaska, adding that “any kind of transit through the Bering Strait for the next few days could be dangerous.”
At its narrowest point, the distance between the Russian mainland and Alaska is 55 miles, according to the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers.
CNN has reached out to the Alaska governor’s office.
Murkowski and Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan have called for stronger border security in the state.
“This incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people do not want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a critical role to play in ensuring America’s national security,” said Sullivan.
“That’s why Senator Murkowski and I have been pressing officials in Washington DC so hard on the need to prioritize capabilities in the Arctic – including infrastructure, Coast Guard assets, ports and strategic defense assets.”