Nobody (except, perhaps, for its authors) knows who wrote it. Nobody knows (except, perhaps, for its authors) who’s behind it. Nobody (except, perhaps, for its authors) can say whether it’s all in fun or not: a petition is making rounds demanding that Alaska become part of Russian Federation.
There’s been a photo montage making Internet rounds these days. It showed Russian president Vladimir Putin in comversation with his U.S. counterpart, Barack Hussein Obama. So, what’s next? asks Obama in a text bubble. Alaska used to be Russian, too, replies Putin.
In any case, the petition has landed in the White House, Washington, D.C.
Technically speaking, everybody and their dog can file a petition with the White House. All you have to do is have an e-mail address and know enough English to answer a basic skill-testing question. That’s all. You can be sitting in Timbuktu, for all the White House cares, and nobody knows whether you are a U.S. citizen or not, and nobody gives a hoot whether your name is really Baron Münchhausen, as you are claiming in your account application, or not.
Once you’ve got a White House account, you’re in petition-filing business.
Here’s the form: you have 120 characters (with spaces) to describe what your petition is all about. An enhanced subject line, so to speak. You mark up to three topics your petition is dealing with. Once the White House system finds there are no similar petitions around at the moment, you file another up to 800 characters (with spaces): that would be the actual petition.
Then, you click submit. You have to collect the first 150 signatures yourself. That’s when your petition becomes public and anybody can join in the fun. Once there are 100,000 signatures under your petition, the White House has to react one way or another.
The Alaska-back-to-Russia petition is about half-way there, having garnered somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand signatures. Quite a distance behind the petition that demands that Canada’s pop-music phenom (and public excrement disturber) Justin Bieber be deported from the Excited States, never to be allowed back again.
Of course, some of the issues on the current petition list are more serious than others. Opposition against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been growing by leaps and bounds, and so has support for making public washrooms a safer place to conduct your business.
Not that anybody would be abusing the system, mind, what with a few petitions written in Chinese, with no English translation attached.
There’s no need for anyone to sign using their full name. Initials would suffice. And, again, nobody really cares if the name you’ve submitted is your real name. If you decide to go far enough and add your zip code (we’re in the Excited States, remember), the system would add the name of the community whence you’re signing. If you made the zip code up, the space remains empty, but your signature still counts.
At last look, there was an interesting mix of people signing the Alaska-back-to-Russia petition. In quite a few cases, the signatures were written in Russian alphabet (Cyrillic). Several signatures consisted of digits, Chinese letters, commas, colons, semicolons, exclamation marks and question marks.
Some analysts went so far as to try to quantify the differences between the Alaska-back-to-Russia petition and other such files on the White House petition pages.
One conclusion: no other petition was so rich on Cyrillic. And no other current petition had seen so few identifiable zip codes. In fact, the Alaska-back-to-Russia petition had about one-tenth of identifiable zip codes when compared to the average of all other petitions currently available on the site.
What does it say?
That somebody manipulated the whole thing?
But who? And why?
Or was it a premature April Fools’ Day joke? The Alaska-back-to-Russia petition was submitted midway through March, after all.
Who knows? Definitely not the White House.
Except, and this is where it all gets serious, Putin’s former economic advisor told Swedish media a few days ago that the Russian president has now his eyes fixed upon Belarus and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). They all used to be part of the former Soviet Union, after all. And who cares that the Baltic states became part of the Soviet Union against their will, as a result of the Soviet pact with Nazi Germany.
Andrei Illarionov, who was part of Putin’s inner circle between the years 2000 and 2005, went on to suggest that not even Finland is safe from Putin’s grandiose plans.
Illarionov, who used to represent Putin at G-8 negotiations, explained that Putin has an ambition that includes “correcting historical mistakes” and returning Russia to her imperial might comparable to the country’s last Tsar, one Nicholas II, and to that of Josif Vissarionovich Stalin.
If that is so, then Finland would be a logical choice for annexation.
Breaking up the Soviet Union was the hugest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, so far as Putin is concerned, Illarionov says. He is not revealing any secrets here: Putin has said so publicly on more than one occasion.
“Putin has been of the view he’s only defending what has belonged to him and his ancestors,” Illarionov said.
Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, Finland, they all belonged to Russia at one time or another.
Illarionov now works at the Cato Institute, an economic and political think-tank based in Washington. D.C. People in the White House, just a few blocks removed from this institute, should perhaps not only listen to what Illarionov has to say, but even try to hear it.
The only question: are they capable of such incredible intellectual effort? Or is Putin correct in his assessment of the current White House crew as a band of people whose intellectual abilities are perfectly negligible?
Just a reminder for those who don’t remember: Finland, a Grand Principality (Princedom) at the time, used to be part of Russia for more than 100 years. So, to imagine Putin saying that the Bolsheviks committed a howler to end all howlers by recognizing Finland’s independence as recently as in 1917 is not within the realm of the impossible. To the contrary.
Finland is not part of NATO, meaning if Russia invades, nobody’s bound to come to the Finns’ defence. That makes this situation even more threatening.
To get back to the Alaska Purchase. The Excited States bought the territory in 1867 for $119 million (U.S.) in today’s money, a bargain iof there ever was one. Russia, in war with Great Britain at the time, feared it might lose that part of the world: Canada’s British Columbia had been expanding and Tsar’s strategists felt they might as well get some money for the place. After all, to them it was an area where some fur traders were trying to eke out a living, and several missionaries were trying to convert native Alaskans to the Russian Orthodox church. Not much value, come to think of it, and getting real money for the wilderness was better than losing it.
Not many Russians (if any at all) stayed in Alaska once the contract was signed, sealed and delivered. Repatriation was part of the deal.
But Putin can always say that his predecessors made a dreadful mistake, and the price wasn’t right, either, given the riches found in Alaska since, and Mother Russia wants restitution. And she wants it now. If no other means are available, how does an invasion sound? Given what he thinks of today’s White House, he must be convinced the Excited States wouldn’t go to war. A tut-tut here and there, and that would be it.
And that is why the petition to return Alaska to Russia is not as funny as it looked at first blush.