A year has passed since a fuel tank belonging to a Nornickel subsidiary ruptured, causing more than 20,000 tonnes of diesel to leak into the soil and waterways near Norilsk in the Russian Arctic.
The environmental disaster made headlines around the world, and the mining metallurgy giant had to pay a record fine of 146 billion rubles (1.62 billion euros) to cover environmental damage from the spill.
For Nornickel, a company controlled by some of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, the spill has become a serious wake-up call.
They have made agreements with associations of indigenous peoples in Russia, Grigory Dyukarev told the Barents Observer.
“In collaboration with the communities and our organization, Nornickel has developed a five-year development program for 2 billion rubles (22.1 million euros), which includes funds for the construction of new houses in the villages, for means of transport, the development of community crafts, and for the valuation of commercial resources, fish and deer, ”explains Dyukarev.
He points out that all of these obligations of Nornickel are agreed not only with his organizations, but also with three other organizations of indigenous peoples in northern Russia.
A coordinating board led by Nornickel will monitor and determine how effectively the allocated funds will be used.
“We plan to plan the development of the community economy and the infrastructure of the villages as a team with the company,” says Grigory Dyukarev.
Nornickel confirms in a statement that it will directly involve indigenous minorities in the North when listing the project.
“The program includes initiatives to improve the quality of life in villages and promote Aboriginal trades,” said Andrey Grachev, vice president of federal and regional programs at Nornickel.
He lists several initiatives in the settlements of the Taimyr Peninsula, such as reindeer meat processing facilities, freezers, equipment for the production of skin memories and studies on fishery resources.
“All of these projects are joint initiatives whose success depends on close contact with the communities and families of indigenous minorities in the north,” Grachev said in a statement issued on the company. portal.
Nornickel has already paid 177 million rubles (2 million euros) in direct compensation to 51 communities, farms and families who fish in the Pyasina, the severely polluted river after the diesel tank leaked last spring.
There are approximately 10,000 indigenous peoples living on the Taimyr Peninsula, including the Nenets, Dolgans, Nganasans and Enets. The peninsula, which forms the northernmost part of mainland Eurasia, is twice the size of Norway and lies between the great Yenisei River which empties into the Kara Sea and the Khatanga Bay of the Laptev Sea. .
Norilsk, infamous for its massive air pollution, is the largest city with around 175,000 inhabitants.
“The relationship with Nornickel, with which we have lived and worked for 85 years, did not always suit us,” says Grigory Dyukarev. “There were problems,” he admits, but adds “we solved them together.”
Loyalty cannot be bought
Dykarev considers it natural for the natives to cooperate with large companies with the aim of preserving culture, languages, crafts and traditional management of nature.
“The financing by a large company of projects for the development of the daily life, crafts and culture of indigenous peoples and the payment of compensation is a generally accepted worldwide practice,” he explains.
“It doesn’t mean that someone is buying someone else’s loyalty or soul,” Dyukarev emphasizes.
Exile group says Nornickel dictates
The Barents Observer has previously interviewed Pavel Sulyandziga, chairman of the Batani Foundation, an exile group working for the rights of indigenous peoples in northern Russia.
He said that Nornickel is used to dictate terms to everyone in Russia. “In Taimyr, Nornickel is both Tsar and God,” he said.
Sulyandziga claimed that Nornickel only brings indigenous people who can paint a “good picture” of the company’s activities.
“Those who ask inconvenient questions, on various violations and issues, are simply excluded,” he added.
The Batani Foundation was declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian government in 2016 and two years later the organization was liquidated by the Moscow City Court after a request from the Ministry of Justice.
The group has since worked in exile, with staff seeking asylum in the United States, Norway and Sweden.
The shutdown of an advocacy group that on behalf of indigenous peoples has spoken about human rights, cultural preservation and environmental protection follows a pattern of crackdown on voices criticizing the authorities, has explained Dmitry Berezhkov, former vice-president of RAIPON, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples. from the North, Siberia and the Far East in a previous interview with the Barents Observer.
Berezhkov, who now lives in Norway after fleeing Russia, said it was important for Moscow to free up the room and eliminate critical voices ahead of its Arctic Council presidency.
“Security forces and strategists are clearing space,” Berezhkov said.
Russia takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council at the Reykjavik Ministerial Conference on May 20 for the next two-year period.
Batani does not represent us
Meanwhile, in the Taimyr Peninsula, Grigory Dyukarev and the regional association of indigenous peoples disagree with the head of the Batani Foundation that Nornickel only speaks with loyal organizations.
“We regard Mr. Sulyandziga’s accusations as offensive against the indigenous peoples of Taimyr that some companies bribe us, pay for our loyalty and force us to paint a rosy picture,” Dyukarev says.
“We are sure that he should not make public statements about Taimyr and the indigenous inhabitants of the region without knowing us and communicating with us,” says Grigory Dyukarev.