“There he established an independent state with its own laws.” The concern of the Kremlin-close oligarch Vladimir Potanin has apparently caused a new eco-catastrophe in Norilsk. Here is what is known so far:
Norilsk, the Siberian city home to the world’s second-largest nickel producer, has been on the headlines lately. But not because of the growth in the production of nickel and palladium, but because of environmental crimes. And because of the attempts to cover them up.
In the last few weeks alone, there have apparently been two environmental disasters, with Norilsk Nickel, one of Russia’s largest exporters of raw materials, responsible for both. He is under the control of Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s richest people with close ties to the Kremlin.
State of emergency after a diesel spill in the Arctic
The first environmental disaster took place on May 29, after 21,000 tons of diesel leaked from the tank of a power plant owned by Norilsk Nickel. The fuel got into the soil and nearby rivers and became a serious threat to the sensitive ecosystem in this part of the Arctic. The concern and its heavily dependent local authorities have been trying for days to cover up the crash.
It was not until June 3 that a state of emergency was declared, recognizing the crash as a national event. In a video conference with President Putin, oligarch Potanin assured that his company would bear all the costs of repairing the damage. Mention was even made of the record high for Russia of 10 billion rubles, which is equivalent to about 127 million euros.
Since then, Russian state media have consistently reported great successes in removing pollution. However, environmental activists recall that the elimination of the consequences of a similar catastrophe in Russia’s Far North took years.
Poisonous waters in the tundra
Only a month later, on June 28, the first information about a new serious incident in Norilsk appeared. This time it is a large amount of highly poisonous water discharged into the tundra from a Norilsk Nickel tank. The incident was documented by the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta and local Greenpeace activists.
Norilsk Nickel confirmed the incident with a brief statement, but said that on June 28, “technical water” overflowed from the tank after the rains, after which the leak was stopped and pumped. However, environmental activists say they have photos taken with a drone on June 20, which show that even then there was a leak of poisonous water.
On June 28, activists found the place in question and took photos and videos of the overflowing waters and the dead surrounding trees. Only then did employees of the concern, police officers and workers appear on the scene, who set about stopping the pumps and dismantling the pipes from which the water was pouring.
Environmental activists fear the toxic water from the reservoir has reached Lake Pyasino, which is larger than Lake Constance, through small rivers. The rivers polluted by the diesel spill at the end of May also flow into it.
In the kingdom of Potanin
To determine the degree of pollution, environmental activists took samples of water in the lake and its tributaries. On June 27, Yabloko opposition politician Sergei Mitrokhin attempted to take the samples to Moscow for an independent investigation. But at the airport in Norilsk he was forbidden to take them out – on the pretext that this could be done “only with the permission of the plant.”
As this is a violation of Russian law, the union of Russian independent media “Syndicate 100” called on the authorities to clarify “how the businessman Vladimir Potanin managed to establish an independent state on the Taimyr Peninsula with its own laws.” The union demanded that the area “be returned to the area of current Russian legislation.”