Melting the Ice Curtain
The Extraordinary Story of Citizen Diplomacy on the Russia-Alaska Frontier
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Just five years after a Soviet missile blew a civilian airliner out of the sky over the North Pacific, an Alaska Airlines jet braved Cold War tensions to fly into tomorrow. Crossing the Bering Strait between Alaska and the Russian Far East, the 1988 Friendship Flight reunited Native peoples of common languages and cultures for the first time in four decades. It and other dramatic efforts to thaw what was known as the Ice Curtain launched a thirty-year era of perilous, yet prolific, progress.
Melting the Ice Curtain tells the story of how inspiration, courage, and persistence by citizen-diplomats bridged a widening gap in superpower relations. David Ramseur was a first-hand witness to the danger and political intrigue, having flown on that first Friendship Flight, and having spent thirty years behind the scenes with some of Alaska’s highest officials. As Alaska celebrates the 150th anniversary of its purchase, and as diplomatic ties with Russia become perilous, Melting the Ice Curtain shows that history might hold the best lessons for restoring diplomacy between nuclear neighbors.
David Ramseur is a visiting scholar in public policy at the University of Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research. He served as press secretary, communications director, chief of staff, and foreign policy advisor to Alaska Governors Steve Cowper and Tony Knowles and to Anchorage mayor and US Senator Mark Begich. He has visited the Soviet Union and Russia more than a dozen times starting with the Alaska Airlines’ Friendship Flight in 1988.
"Ramseur has hope that the Ice Curtain era provides us with lessons for ‘overall relations’
and wants readers to come away from the book knowing that regular citizens can bring
about international change."
"Yes, you can see Russia from Alaska in at least two ways. You can fly from Anchorage
to St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, and from there the Chukotka Peninsula of
Siberia is visible on the western horizon. Or you can read David Ramseur’s engagingly
personal book, which opens our eyes to the affinities and possibilities for cooperation
between America and its neighbor at the top of the world."
—Strobe Talbott, former US deputy secretary of state, 1994-2001
"In Melting the Ice Curtain, David Ramseur tells the fascinating story of US-Russian relations at the border
where our two nations have been linked for centuries. He focuses on a rare opening
that began during the Reagan-Gorbachev years, when Alaska Natives, artists and entrepreneurs
moved faster than diplomats or politicians to bring the two peoples together. It's
terrific story-telling about an era that has profound lessons for American policy
—Corey Flintoff, National Public Radio Moscow correspondent, 2012-2016
"David Ramseur combines firsthand experience with thorough reporting to create an
engaging account of a remarkable period of friendship between Russia’s Far East and
Alaska. Intimate details abound in this contemporary history of arctic neighbors with
so much in common, including environment, blood relations, political entanglements
and intense curiosity about each other. Especially fascinating are the stories of
dedicated citizen diplomats who helped reunite Native families separated by the Cold
War, establish commercial and cultural ties, and crumble barriers between former enemies.
This timely book reminds us that ordinary people of goodwill and determination can
overcome suspicion and uncertainty to change the world, bit by bit, in even its most
—Sherry Simpson, author Dominion of Bears, The Way Winter Comes
"David Ramseur’s book recalls a more hopeful time when Russia was striving for democratic
reforms, and when U.S.–Russia relations were defined by cooperation and goodwill.
It is also a valuable reminder that nothing is predetermined, and that we should never
cease to work for a better tomorrow."
—Vladimir Kara-Murza, Chairman Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom
"Those of us who have lived in Alaska know the hulking presence Russia plays less
than three miles away at the closet point. Journalist and political aide David Ramseur
tells a compelling story of a colorful era when Alaska and Russia helped end the Cold
War across the Bering Strait. The lessons Ramseur draws from these productive decades
of northern good will are instructive for today’s uneasy relations between Washington
—Peter Rouse, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama
"For nearly three decades, David Ramseur has been one of Alaska’s most persistent
advocates for productive relations with Russia across the Bering Strait. Thanks to
his tenacity in my Senate office, I eagerly stood up for human rights and against
Russia’s escalating dictatorship. Ramseur’s fascinating account of this era is a must-read
for anyone who cares about Russia or its former fur colony."
—Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich, 2009-2015
"This compelling, well written account of a productive period in US-Russia relations
is timely and invaluable. David Ramseur’s experience as a journalist makes him a keen
and meticulous observer of a colorful but chaotic era. Melting the Ice Curtain dramatically shows how people of the Arctic have surmounted enormous obstacles to
achieve high levels of cooperation, a model needed today."
—Vic Fischer, author To Russia With Love: An Alaskan’s Journey
"For Alaskans who want to better understand their state's history, and for Americans
who need to better understand the complicated US-Russia relationship, this book is
an invaluable read. With the insight of an insider, Ramseur traces the highs and lows
of Alaska-Russia interactions with lively stories about people and places on both
sides of the Bering Strait. He rightly concludes the Arctic is the most promising
area for future US-Russian cooperation and draws a roadmap for getting there."
—Fran Ulmer, Chair, US Arctic Research Commission, Alaska Lieutenant Governor, 1994-2002
"The US and Russia need one another's help to tackle the problems that will matter
beyond today's news cycle. Ramseur’s book outlines a blueprint for cooperation in
the Arctic region, which is vital not only for managing the region's precious resources,
but for addressing looming threats to national and global security."
—Matt Rojansky, director Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center
"For 40 years, Cold War politics banned Alaska and Russia indigenous peoples from
practicing the sacred traditions they had pursued across the Bering Strait since time
immemorial. With impeccable research, David Ramseur documents how these peoples pressured
Moscow and Washington to reopen the border as they struggle to keep endangered cultures
alive. Ice Curtain is must reading for anyone who cares about the ancient people of the Arctic."
—Julie Kitka, president Alaska Federation of Natives
"We are now at another critical turning point in our history. Melting the Ice Curtain tells a compelling story of the success of grassroots citizen diplomacy and details
lessons for today’s perilously poor relations between the world’s superpowers. Ramseur
is one of Alaska’s experts on this topic and he offers valuable insights on how we
may turn our challenges into opportunities."
—Russell J. Handy, Lieutenant General, USAF, Retired Commander, Alaskan Command
"This book’s distinguishing achievements include salvaging fading memories from earlier
decades of improved relations across the Bering Strait and prescribing their reinstatement.
Ramseur’s research exemplifies responsible journalism’s contributions to history.
It is a pleasure to read. . . . A well-reasoned manifesto for international Arctic
"A fascinating study of the role played by Alaska and Alaskans in Soviet/Russian-US
relations during and immediately after the Cold War."