Murkowski and Sullivan strike familiar Alaska themes in response to Russian attack on Ukraine

Sen. Sullivan says Russian aggression in Ukraine shows the need for the U.S. to build its military in the Arctic. Here, Marines prepare for the Arctic Edge exercise at Fort Greely in 2018. (Cpl. Bethanie Ryan/U.S. Marine Corps)

In addition to strong condemnation, Alaska’s U.S. senators have responded to Russian aggression against Ukraine with renewed calls to advance home-state priorities they’ve sought for years.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have introduced a bill to ban imports of Russian seafood, and Congressman Don Young has a similar bill in the House. Murkowski also said she’d try to add a Russian seafood ban to a sanctions bill in the Senate. Murkowski has been calling for such a ban since 2014, after Russia prohibited imports of American seafood. 

“It is absolutely unfair that Russia has unlimited access to sell its seafood in the United States while America’s fishermen and our seafood processors, particularly those in my state of Alaska, have no access to markets in Russia,” she said in a recent speech on the Senate floor.

Murkowski is also calling for more oil development in Alaska. She always has. Now, she’s framing it in contrast to the oil the U.S. imports from Russia.

“When it comes to energy, we simply do not need U.S. dollars to be financing Russia’s territorial aggressions — especially when we have everything that we need here at home,” she said.

Alaska’s crude isn’t processed at the same refineries as petroleum imported from Russia, but Murkowski said both Alaska and Russia are suppliers in the global oil market.

Sullivan has been making a similar argument — that suppressing domestic energy production empowers Russia. And Sullivan said the war in Ukraine proves the need to beef up military assets in Alaska.

“The most important way you deal with Putin is not through talk. It is through demonstrations of power,” Sullivan said on NPR’s All Things Considered Sunday. “And that’s why I’ve been a strong proponent of a military buildup in our Arctic. That’s the one thing he understands. He understands energy. He understands military power.”

Sullivan also said the U.S. needs more icebreakers to counter the Russian presence in the Arctic. More ice breakers and a military expansion in the Arctic are two priorities he’s pursued since taking office.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.