The Social Consequences Of Mining Disaster

Another mining accident has occurred in the same region where up to 90 miners perished last weekend; this time two workers from the Aleskeyevskaya coal mine remain missing.  Yulia Latynina commented both acerbically and astutely in today’s Moscow Times on how the discrepancy between owner and worker is felt most acutely in times when disaster strikes, and this discrepancy can be palpable enough to ignite social unrest:

The problem is that Russian miners earn about 67 percent less and pay double the amount for food than their counterparts in the West.

Why does food cost so much in Russian stores? The high prices reflect the direct cost to the economy caused by extortionists, who have multiplied and earned record profits during the Putin years. Like other large, profitable companies, Evraz must pay Putin’s bureaucrats large bribes and kickbacks to stay in operation, and these heavy “corruption taxes” are built into production costs at Raspadskaya.

The difference between ordinary Russians, who have to pay exorbitantprices for consumer goods, and Evraz, which has to pay exorbitantprices for licences and equipment, is that Evraz owner and billionaireRoman Abramovich can afford to pamper himself every now and then. Forexample, he just bought another luxurious chateau — the latest one inNussdorf, near Vienna. It is also worth noting that Putin himself wasseen standing on the veranda of that luxurious home during his visit toAustria in April. Just 20 days before the catastrophe in theRaspadskaya mine, we saw a wonderful picture: Putin was grinning fromear to ear on the veranda of a home Abramovich purchased with the moneyhe saved by paying his miners miserly wages.

If your coal issold for the standard price on world markets and the owner of the mineis forced to pay enormous bribes to state officials — and at the sametime he wants to buy a luxurious chateau in Nussdorf — the only way tosave money is by cutting the miners’ wages. To earn enough money tofeed their families, the miners put wet rags over the methane sensors.Normally, the sensors would automatically shut down the mine whenmethane levels have reached dangerously high levels. But the wet ragsshut down the sensors, not the mine, and as a result the entire mine isblown to pieces.

By dispersing protesters, Putin is placing wet rags on another sensor — the people’s anger.

A news story in the Moscow Times reaffirmed a parallel in this dynamic, with a conflict between major business firm Eurochem and residents of the town of Tuapse, after a toxic fertilizer spill poisoned local ecology.  Residents are taking to the streets in anger at the criminal negligence with which they feel their environment has been treated:

A toxic fertilizer spill in Tuapse, Krasnodar region, has sparked unprecedented protests in the small seaside town, with locals venting their rage at development that they say is putting their lives and health in danger.

About 3,000 residents of Tuapse, located just 110 kilometers north of Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, rallied in protest on Saturday. They called for a fertilizer shipping terminal, owned by fertilizer giant EuroChem, to be shut down.

“People are at a boiling point now,” said Yevgeny Vitishko, who heads the Tuapse environmental council. “The terminal is not ready, the transport belt gallery is not finished, the main warehouse is not finished. The terminal has not officially begun operation, and yet it is in operation,” he said.

While the company has said the loadings in March were “test loadings,” Vitishko said EuroChem, Russia’s largest fertilizer producer, may have been filling orders that it had agreed to before the company began running behind on its construction schedule.

EuroChem began building the terminal, which can handle 2.3 million tons per year, in 2007 in order to cut transportation costs on its exports.

Read the full article here.