Relations between the United States and the Russian Empire and what eventually became the Soviet Union, and then back to Russia, have evolved tremendously since 1776. Even at the height of the Cold War, the relationship was often complex and sometimes involved cooperation. Russia also gave the United States some of its biggest and valuable territories.
The earliest official relationship between the United States and Russia began in 1776, very soon after the Declaration of Independence. Russia was generally positive and supportive of the colonial revolt against Great Britain. Officially, Russia wanted to avoid conflict with Britain and declared neutrality but saw the benefits of weakening Great Britain and supported the revolt in an unofficial manner. Catherine the Great did genuinely feel that Britain was to blame for the war. She created a neutrality declaration in the war that also allowed trade between the warring states and Russia. Great Britain did try to bribe the Russian's, by giving them an the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean, in joining the war against the Americans, but Russia refused. Catherine did refuse to formally recognize the United States during the war, refusing the request of the American ambassador Francis Dana sent to talk to Catherine to supporting the new United States
While privately supporting the American Revolution, as a way to weaken Britain, Russia also worried about the effect of the revolution on its population, which was still bound by the strict policies of serfdom. Some historians suggest the American Revolution inspired the Decembrist revolt that took place in 1825, which was a revolt by military officers against Tsar Nicholas I. Russia was generally embroiled in European politics and mostly ignored events in North America, except for expanding its trade presence in Alaska and parts of the western areas of North America because of the lucrative furs and other trade there. Later, in 1917, Russian revolutionaries did also see the revolt of the thirteen colonies as inspiration for their own revolt.
The next major events did not occur until the American Civil War. Before this time and after, Russian immigrants, mostly Jews, did begin to arrive in the United States. The Russian Empire formally supported the Union side during the Civil War, once again as a move to counter Great Britain. The worry for Russia was Britain would join the South and weaken the United States. Russia's formal support of the Union may have swayed the British not to support the South, as Great Britain would have not wanted to start a war with Russia at the time soon after the Crimea War (1853-1856) which was costly to Russia and Great Britain.
In 1868, William Seward, the Secretary of State for the United States, helped organize the purchase of Alaska from Russia for 7.2 million dollars. Russia, at this time, was still recovering from the Crimea War and needed money to finance its recovery. This led to their desire to sell Alaska to the United States. Previously, Alaska had been very important for the fur trade but by this time many otters and animals for the trade were hunted to the point where the trade was not very profitable. Russia also saw it as a way to counter the British because it put the United States in a position to block Great Britain, via Canada, which they ruled at the time, from occupying the region. Already in the 1850s the Russians had considered selling Alaska to the United States. Seward thought trade with Asia would eventually be very important for the United States and he saw Alaska as a base for which to use for trade. Some derided his decision, calling it famously "Seward's Folly." Despite the fact that Russia and the United States now were near each other in Alaska, there were only minor contacts through the early 20th century. Both countries were interested in expanding their interests elsewhere. The United States did get involved in brokering the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War in the Treaty of Portsmouth.
The Fall of the Russian Empire Period
The United States did not engage significantly with Russia again until the Russian Civil War in 1918, as they now feared the rise of the Bolshevik. The allies in World War I were concerned with the rise of the Bolshevik, where they actively sent support and even volunteers to fight with the so-called White Movement. The war went badly for the White Movement and the Red Army proved victories in most regions it fought, forming what would become the Soviet Union. Using its position in Alaska, the United States send support to the Russian Far East. The situation did not stabilize until about 1922, with the United States still refusing to recognize the now established Soviet Union until after 1922.