Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Alaska Airlines Melts Ice Curtain with Flights to Russia's Far East

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Alaska Airlines Melts Ice Curtain with Flights to Russia's Far East

Article excerpt

FOR MOST of the 20th century, Russia's Far East has been off limits to Americans. The closest part of Russia to the United States, Russia east of Siberia, seemed also the most forbidding.

Among its sites: Magadan, port of entry to Stalin's Arctic gold mines; Sakhalin Island, home base to the Soviet fighter that shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007; and Vladivostok, a city closed to all Westerners when it was home port to the Soviet Pacific fleet.

But the ice curtain has melted, and Alaska Airlines is building a network of flights between Seattle and Anchorage and Russia's back door. It began flying there in 1991. In its latest expansion, it will offer weekly service starting May 10 from Seattle and Anchorage to the airline's fifth destination in the region, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the provincial capital of Sakhalin Island. In another innovation, this summer Americans holding multiple-entry visas will be able to city-hop within Russia on Alaska Airlines. The airline, which says it makes money on its Russian routes, has built its service gradually. In 1991, summer service started to two cities: Magadan, a sister city to Anchorage, and Khabarovsk, a European-style interior city that is the industrial and commercial hub for Russia's Far East. In 1993, to facilitate trans-Pacific tourism and trade, Russia opened a consulate in Seattle and the United States opened a consulate in Vladivostok. That year, Alaska Airlines started flying to "Vlad," a hilly city overlooking the Pacific that once was known as Russia's San Francisco. After consolidating summer service, the airline started year-round flights in 1994. The following year, the airline added Petropavlovsk, the largest city on Kamchatka Peninsula. Noted for smoking volcanoes and active geyser fi elds, Kamchatka recently was added to Unesco's list of places of outstanding universal value. Now, with American oil companies starting to drill on Sakhalin, the airline plans to fly to the island. "With direct service between Anchorage and Yuzhno, it will allow the oilfield support companies to arrive there in six hours, ready to do business," said Douglas K. Barry, a professor at the University of Alaska Center for International Business. …

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