Born in Moscow, Khalit Aisin has worked in international relations for 30 years. He currently serves as the Deputy Consul General at the Russian Consulate in Seattle. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

A band of Russian performers, with their sights set on Sitka, are reportedly still in Moscow awaiting visas. As the mystery of their travel plans deepens, one Russian did make it to the Alaska Day festivities this past weekend.

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Though born in Moscow, Khalit Asin lives in the United States. He’s the Deputy Consul General of the Consulate General of Russia in Seattle and was greeted by a small party at the Rocky Gutierrez airport.

KCAW: Welcome to Sitka.
Asin: Thank you so much.

One thing that’s striking about Asin: he’s an impeccably dressed man, with white hair neatly trimmed and a tidy suitcase for the weekend. When asked why he wanted to come to Sitka, he said it’s always been high on his travel list – particularly on Alaska Day.

“I’m a curious man, still curious man,” said Aisin. “I would like to see with my own eyes and what’s going on and happened here more than a century ago.”


Zlata Lund came down from Anchorage to serve as a translator. Her mother Natalia joined her, presenting Asin a stack of blinis – thin pancakes – on a silver platter. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Zlata Lund came down from Anchorage to serve as a translator. Her mother Natalia joined her, presenting Asin a stack of blinis – thin pancakes – on a silver platter. Though Zlata had mentally prepared for a whole cohort of Russians, she wasn’t disappointed it was only one.

“One is better than none,” Lund said. “It’s supposed to start somewhere. This is the beginning. 2017 is coming. Hopefully in that year, we will speak history. We will talk history. We will commemorate history. We will learn history.”

Hal Spackman, the director of the Sitka Historical Society, anticipates there will be wave of Russian interest in Sitka these next two years. He considers the 150th anniversary of the transfer a ripe chance for tourism, bringing money and pride. “I had my grandchildren here and they were beaming to be able to welcome that person,” he said. “And that will be a memory for the rest of their life.”

One of his children, Tanner Steinson, bestowed Asin a wooden platter shaped like a fish. He shyly said the gift was on behalf of the children of Alaska. Asin beamed and tucked it under his arm. The greeting party then immediately got to work configuring the diplomat’s itinerary.

Spackman: We want to make this experience fun for you. You might want a tour of the area and see, even though it’s rainy and cloudy.

And he was off. In 48 hours, Asin took that rain-washed tour of downtown. Went to the ball. And he found some time, right before Sunday’s parade, to meet me in the lobby of the Westmark Hotel. He had 10 minutes and got straight to business.

“I was born in Moscow in 1958, so I am a rather grown up person,” Aisin said.” Aisin got a degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MIGMO). In his 30-year career, he’s lived on practically every continent. He worked first in Africa for ten years – Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana.

“After that,” Aisin said, “it was Europe, a little Austria, then central Asia, then Baltic Republic, and after that, San Francisco and now Seattle.”

He’s been there for a year. Part of his job is to foster bilateral relations and this trip to Sitka fits that bill.

I asked Aisin what he thought about burgeoning hostility between our two countries in Syrian airspace. Aisin said that was a conversation he should leave up to what he called “the big bosses.”

He added that these developments haven’t affected his job much, and that he’s doing what he can to improve relations from his side of the Bering Strait. Aisin said, “This June, the legislature of the state of Washington proclaimed the month of June as a month of Russian-American historical heritage.”

Aisin considers this a huge victory for the consulate and he’s pleased to see that Sitka has long embraced this history. “Especially during this Alaska Day, on the 18th of October. Of course, this day belongs to the history of our two countries, Russia and the United States,” Aisin said.

And with that, Deputy Consul General Aisin was whisked away to his next stop. The Fortress of the Bear.