Two Russians arrived in Alaska this week amid Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. File Photo by Kremlin POOL/ UPI | License Photo
Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Two Russian nationals who traveled to Alaska by boat from their native country earlier this week have requested asylum in the United States, sparking concerns over border security amid the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.
Alaskan Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan said in a joint statement Thursday that the pair of Russians had landed in a boat Tuesday on the northwestern tip of Alaska's St. Lawrence Island, which is located in the Bering Strait about 60 miles east from the Russian mainland.
The arrival comes as thousands of Russians have attempted to flee Russia after President Vladimir Putin last month announced a partial mobilization of some 300,000 civilians into the military as his forces have lost ground in its fight against Ukraine.
The Kremlin has also raised the penalties for refusal of service or desertion to 10 years' imprisonment.
The senators did not explicitly say that the Russians were feeling the war, but that the situation in their country does raise concerns about border safety in the Last Frontier.
Murkowski said local officials and law enforcement were the only people who responded immediately to the asylum seekers while U.S. Customs and Border Protection had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from more than 750 miles away.
"This situation underscores the need for a strong security posture in America's Arctic," she said, while Sullivan added that he has been in contact with border officials encouraging them "to have a plan ready with the Coast Guard in the event that more Russians flee to the Bering Strait communities in Alaska."
"This incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people don't want to fight Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine. Second, given Alaska's proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in securing America's national security," Sullivan said.
"This is why Sen. Murkowski and I have been pressing officials in Washington, D.C., so hard on the need to prioritize capabilities in the Arctic -- including infrastructure, Coast Guard assets, ports and strategic defense assets."
Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters during a press conference Wednesday that the Russian individuals were now in Anchorage under the care of federal authorities.
Asked if he expected more Russians to reach Alaska given the situation in their country, the Republican governor said they don't anticipate "a continual stream of individuals" seeking to come ashore.
"We have no indication that's going to happen. So this maybe is a one-off," he said, while adding that their arrival was "a surprise."
"Who knows what going to happen in the future," he said. "If more individuals ... leave Russia through the bering Strait, we'll have to deal with that."