The Golden Samovar Service flew well-heeled and intrepid American tourists to the Soviet Far East and Siberia on Alaska Airlines planes. In cooperation with Intourist, an American with $850 to burn got an all inclusive (alcohol included) eight day glimpse of Soviet society, or at least the parts the Kremlin wanted us to see. From Anchorage, the planes flew over the Great Wall of China to Irkutsk. A hydrofoil then whisked the Americans to Bratsk Dam on Lake Baikal. The Soviet journey then ended in Khabarovsk (remember, Vladivostok was still closed to Westerners then).
After the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Alaska Airlines eyed the Russian Far East as a new and possibly lucrative market. Alaska MD-80s first started regular service to Magadan and Khabarovsk in 1991. This was followed by flights to Vladivostok in 1993, Petropavlovsk in 1995, and finally, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Unfortunately, the Russian Far East was not quite ready for prime time. In Magadan, a lack of de-icers forced one Alaska pilot to round up much of the vodka in town. He de-iced his plane's wings with the vodka and a garden hose. By the time of the Russian economic collapse in 1998, all Alaskan Russia flights were axed.
With the Russian economy red hot again, should Alaska Air return? Probably not. With the rising cost of fuel, U.S. carriers are cutting back. Expanding routes should not be on the agenda of any fiscally sane company. In addition, there is no market for regular flights, even if it is just once a week. Korean and Japanese carriers have the Vladivostok market cornered. There are more volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula than there are Americans who want to see them. Sakhalin's oil and gas workers and managers, both foreign and domestic, are already well-served transportation-wise. Finally, who in their right mind would want to do business in or visit Magadan and Khabarovsk?