Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 149

The 650,000 inhabitants of Russia’s Sakhalin Island are facing the threat of a complete power blackout as coal miners continue for the tenth day to block trains carrying coal to the island’s power station. The miners are demanding payment of up to eight months’ wage arrears. Engineers say the power station will shut down completely unless fuel supplies are delivered soon. Electricity is already being rationed following the closure of one of the power station’s three generators, and the second is now close to running out of fuel. When that happens, all power will cease to homes and factories on the island, while the third generator will supply only hospitals and other essential services. Local fishermen are furious since the miners’ action threatens the cold storage of their catches at the height of the fishing season.

Regional legislators met in emergency session yesterday. They said the miners’ demands were fair but their actions “unacceptable.” The deputies nonetheless approved the decision of local police not to use force break up the pickets. They urged President Yeltsin to take urgent measures to settle federal debts to Sakhalin Region, said to total 200 million rubles. (Russian agencies, August 3)

Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov met yesterday with Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov. Nemtsov said there would be no money from the federal government until miners removed their pickets. A BBC correspondent quoted Farkhutdinov as saying: “The miners are not gangsters, they are our own people.” The governor was, the BBC commented, displaying the divided loyalties typical of many Russian regional governors who, since they are now popularly elected, have to juggle the demands of their voters against those of the center. (BBC World Service, August 3)

As strike action mounts in other parts of the country, the federal government finds itself in an even trickier situation. Workers at a machine-building plant in Kemerovo Oblast in western Siberia threatened yesterday to resume their blockage of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The government is under increasing pressure to find money to settle workers’ demands at a time when the IMF is urging it to make further cuts in public spending. The government hopes to raise some of the money by privatization. Last week, it announced a plan to sell a nine percent stake in LUKoil, and details of a planned sale of a five percent stake in Gazprom are expected this week. The government is also pressing ahead with its third attempt to sell Rosneft, the largest oil company still in state hands.