Two Russian nationals sought asylum in Alaska on Tuesday when they landed by boat on St. Lawrence Island, leaving lawmakers from the state asking the federal government for extra support in case more Russians flee to Alaska amid President Vladimir Putin's military call-up.
The town of Gambell on the northwestern tip of the island is more than 60 miles from mainland Russia across the Bering Strait. Local authorities first encountered the Russian nationals and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard for help.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the federal response "lacking" and said that Customs and Border Protection had to send Coast Guard responders from over 750 miles away.
“Only local officials and state law enforcement had the capability to immediately respond to the asylum seekers, while Customs and Border Protection had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to get on the scene,” Murkowski said in a statement. “This situation underscores the need for a stronger security posture in America’s Arctic.”
Alaska's other senator, Dan Sullivan, also a Republican, said in a statement that he had spoken to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the incident. Sullivan said CBP is still determining whether the two Russians will be allowed into the U.S.
Sullivan said he has encouraged CBP “to have a plan ready with the Coast Guard in the event that more Russians flee to Bering Strait communities in Alaska,” Sullivan said.
“This incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine," he said. "Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in securing America’s national security.”
A spokesperson for CBP did not immediately respond to request for comment.