Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Welcome Varyag!

The flagship of Russia's Pacific fleet has come to town and is docked at Pier 30-32. It is the first Russian warship to visit San Francisco since 1863, when the Russian Pacific and Atlantic fleets tied up in San Francisco Bay and New York Harbor. The weaponry has been upgraded somewhat. Those earlier vessels were formidable, but this one has 16 cruise missiles with a range of 3,400 miles.

One hundred and forty-seven years ago, the Civil War raged in the East, and U.S. relations with France and Great Britain remained tenuous. The importance of Russia's support for the Union goes underreported in the literature. The bi-coastal sojourns in the U.S. freed the Russian fleets from potential blockades in their home ports, and made for a strong show of force in the event that one of the great Western European powers recognized the Confederacy.

The Russians, of course, had a long and rich history on the West Coast of North America. San Francisco's Russian Hill (North of Nob Hill, and west of Telegraph Hill), was named for a small cemetery of Cyrillic-inscribed tombstones discovered on the crest by 49ers. In 1812, moving down from Alaska, the Russian
American Company established Fort Ross, north of San Francisco, which became the southernmost Russian outpost. Today, it's a well-preserved state historic park, and favored destination for school outings.

Hearty thanks go to the Russians for standing by the Union in her time of greatest crisis, and for the the sacrifice of six sailors who died fighting a conflagration during that 1863 visit. A plaque honoring those sailors was dedicated in San Francisco last week at the foot of Broadway.

[photo at top: Capt. Eduard Muskalenko, commander of the Varyag. Bottom right, a Russian stamp depicting Andrei Alexandrovich Popov, commander of the Pacific Fleet that patroled the U.S. West Coast in 1863.]

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