The two Russians braved miles of open sea, traveling on a vessel from Russia to a small isolated island in Alaska with the apparent aim of avoiding being ensnared in President Vladimir V. Putin’s mandatory conscription to fight in Ukraine, two U.S. senators said on Thursday.
The two escapees appeared to have accomplished their goal, landing on a beach on the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea this week and requesting asylum in the United States, according to a statement from Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Republicans of Alaska.
Mr. Sullivan said he had contacted the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, after being informed about the duo, whose escape, he said, underlined the desperation of Russians seeking to flee Mr. Putin’s war.
“This incident makes two things clear,” Mr. Sullivan said in the statement. “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.”
The pair sailed to the island from the city of Egvekinot in northeastern Russia, a journey close to 300 miles, Curtis Silook, Gambell’s town clerk, told Alaska’s News Source, an online news outlet. Phone calls to the clerk’s office did not go through on Thursday evening; the Coast Guard said that the island was engulfed in a storm.
The two Russians appeared to be part of an exodus of more than 200,000 men who have fled Russia since Sept. 21, when Mr. Putin, faced with major battlefield losses in Ukraine, issued an order to mobilize as many as 300,000 reservists to join the fight. Within four days, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported, an estimated 261,000 military-aged men had left. Tens of thousands more have fled since.
Many of the men have ended up in places like Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet territory, that normally see few refugees but are willing to take them. Others have gone to Georgia, Finland, Turkey or other countries.
Even before Mr. Putin’s mobilization order, hundreds of thousands of Russians had already left the country, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Marsha Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department, said in a statement that, after landing in Alaska on Tuesday, the two Russians had been transported to Anchorage for inspection, and had been screened and vetted and then processed in accordance with U.S. immigration laws. She said the two were now in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mr. Sullivan said that, given Alaska’s geostrategic position in the shadow of Russia, he and Ms. Murkowski had been pressing officials in Washington “to prioritize capabilities in the Arctic — including infrastructure, Coast Guard assets, ports and strategic defense assets.”
Ms. Murkowski said they were in touch with federal officials and residents in the island town nearest to where the Russians landed to try and learn more about the identity of the two individuals.
She also criticized the federal response to the Russians’ arrival, saying that Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency securing American borders, had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to arrive on scene.
“This situation underscores the need for a stronger security posture in America’s Arctic,” she said.
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