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Given the disorder and hysteria that was the Cold War, it has become somewhat passé for Americans (let alone the world) to remember that the American state of Alaska was once a colony of their "greatest enemy" — the Russians. While it's easy to chalk the end to Russia's colonial ambitions to the sheer size and isolation that Alaska is notorious for, it was not for a lack of trying. Since the early 19th Century, the Russian Empire had as much ambition for North America as the rest of the European powers. Probably their greatest attempt to solidify their claims was the construction and operation of Fort Ross (a colony located in modern day Northern California). While not successful in regards to the overall goal, the colony lasted for about 30 years, and we can thank the Russians for the earliest exploration of this part of California (it isn't called the "Russian River" for nothing). The colony was eventually sold off and has pretty much been lost to history.
But for a moment, imagine if the Russians were to have been successful in the area as they'd hoped for. The area of the Pacific Northwest was by no means organized at the time, being claimed by multiple, bickering powers fighting for control over it all. Had the situation taken a different turn at this crucial time, the Russians could've easily become the victors of the region. What would such a nation look and act like? How would this affect the Cold War? What would the world be like had there still been a Russian America?
Point of Divergence
Under the leadership of Ivan Kuskov, the Russian-American Company constructed a base for the Russian Empire in what was then Spanish-controlled Alta California. It would be during this period that Kuskov begins to see his mission quite differently from our timeline. Rather than simply a business venture, he begins to see himself as something of a founding father, planting the seeds of a new colony for Russia. His feelings are further encouraged by his friend and superior, Alexander Baranov, who is just as ambitious for the area. Kuskov ultimately persuades his men to take up permanent residence in the colony and encourages them to bring their families over (Kuskov even encourages his wife to move there).
The word of a new Russian colony in North America quickly spreads around the world. Within a few years, the colony would expand from a few people into a thriving colony of hundreds. Under the leadership of Ivan Kuskov and his wife, the colony would further grow in size and prominence. Ironically, much of the colony's early successes were due in great part to Elizabeth Kuskova (the wife of Ivan), who helped to bring cooperation between the colonists and the native Pomo people (thanks in great part to Elizabeth teaching herself the native language). Just as hoped, the new colony quickly developed into a bread basket to help all of the Russian settlements within North America. While there was still a long way to go, the colony was well underway.
The growing Russian presence in the area quickly began to draw fears from the Americans, the British, and the Spanish; all of whom feared what a stronger Russia would mean for the balance of power in the region. But it was the Spanish who had the most anger against the colony, as it was constructed and thriving in what had been Spanish territory. While Russia justified their claims in that it was well north of Spain's northernmost port (San Francisco), this was of little comfort on Spain's part (who at the same time was already losing their vast empire in the New World). The situations becomes untenable for the Spanish once the Russian merchants begin trading with (and doing business with) the rebelling colonies.
Unable to accept losing their power in the area, Spain finally decides to act by sending an expedition force to the Ross Colony in 1820. While it was believed that the modest fleet would persuade the Russians to leave without an incident, the move would end in failure as the Russian colonists fought for, and won, their colony. The move would only solidify Russia's claim to the area, resulting in years of war between the two empires. Playing off the growing decline of Spain's claims in the New World, Russia would emerge as the victor in not just North America, but on the global stage. Securing all of Spain's claims to the Pacific Northwest, Russia would eventually push out the Americans and the British by the century's end. This Russian colony would eventually become the independent nation of Alaska.
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