In 1867, the United States bought Alaska from the Russian Empire, significantly expanding its territory. Fast forward to January 2024: Amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine and U.S. support for Ukraine, a rumor surfaced online. It claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the 1867 sale of Alaska "illegal." For instance, one Reddit post on the topic read, "Putin stokes tensions with US, declares 1867 sale of Alaska 'illegal.'"
Hahahah - seriously. not kidding: Putin has signed a decree making the sale of Alaska to the US illegal. territory is to be declared occupied ?#RussiaIsATerroristState #Russia #RussiaUkraineWar #Russian #Ukraine #usa pic.twitter.com/Y269uPFVI1
— Intermarium 24 (@intermarium24) January 21, 2024
Moreover, social media users shared an alleged document signed by Putin, claiming that the sale of Alaska was not legitimate. "Putin signed an order insinuating the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867 was illegitimate. This mofo is trolling the West and our leaders shake in their boots in response," a post on X with the alleged official document read.
Putin signed an order insinuating the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867 was illegitimate.
This mofo is trolling the West and our leaders shake in their boots in response. pic.twitter.com/2bLu6ShHDb
— Igor Sushko (@igorsushko) January 20, 2024
We found that the rumor was also spread on TikTok. Our research indicated that the rumor originated from an article published on Jan. 21, 2024, by essanews.com website with the title, "Putin stokes tensions with US, declares 1867 sale of Alaska 'illegal.'" It read:
Interestingly, Vladimir Putin appears to have rethought the sale of Alaska to the Americans. It's not a joke: he's trying to give the impression that his influence extends not only to his country's future events but also plans to rewrite the past. Therefore, he signed a decree rendering the sale of Alaska illegal.
It is true that on Jan. 18, 2024, Putin signed a decree pertaining to the management of Russian Federation property abroad. A copy of it was shared on an official website of the Russian government, labeled as follows (we translated it using Google Translate):
Order of the President of the Russian Federation dated January 18, 2024 No. 21-rp
(On determining the Federal State Unitary Enterprise "Enterprise for Property Management Abroad" of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation as the recipient of a subsidy for financial support of costs)
We used Google Translate to ascertain what the decree itself stated, in English:
The document did not, according to this translation, mention Alaska at any point, or state that Alaska or any other territory formerly owned by Russia was sold "illegally."
On Jan. 19, 2024, the Russian state-owned news agency TASS published a report on the decree, titled, "Russia to allocate funds for search of Soviet, Imperial Russian property abroad." It informed that Russia would allocate funds for an effort to "find, register and ensure legal protection of Russia’s property abroad, including property of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire." The article continued (emphasis ours):
A relevant decree, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, will allocate funds for the purpose to the Department of Foreign Property of the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation.
The funds will be allocated to cover expenses related to "the process of searching the real estate property owned by the Russian Federation, the former Russian Empire, the former USSR," as well as for "due registration of [property] rights" and "legal protection of this property."
Another decree allocates funds to cover the department’s expenses for maintaining and using Russia’s federal property abroad.
Again, the TASS article did not mention any reference to Alaska in the decree.
In sum, given that the decree signed by Putin did not declare that the 1867 sale of Alaska was "illegal" — or indeed mention Alaska at all — we have rated this claim as False.
The Institute for the Study of War, a nonprofit research group and think tank, underscored that, "The Kremlin may use the 'protection' of its claimed property in countries outside of its internationally recognized borders to forward soft power mechanisms in post-Soviet and neighboring states ultimately aimed at internal destabilization." In other words, the organization argues that Putin could use the excuse of protecting Russia's properties abroad to spread its influence and cause unrest in nearby countries.