Criminal case opened following Siberian oil spill: mayor to blame

The Mayor of Norilsk is the subject of a criminal case opened following the Siberian oil spill dubbed the worst ecological disaster in the Arctic. Investigators say the mayor was negligent and didn't take precautions. The leak itself has polluted fresh water rivers and will cost over $150 million to clean.

Criminal case over Siberian oil spill

Nearly two weeks after an ecological disaster that has shocked environmental activists both in Russia and abroad, the top local official in Norilsk is to be prosecuted for ‘negligence.’

Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin is the subject of a criminal case over the oil spillage. According to investigators, Akhmetchin knew about the amount of fuel leaked but failed to take the necessary measures to tackle the initial damage. He is being charged with “non-fulfillment of his official duties during an emergency.”

Criminal case opened following Siberian oil spill

Specifically, prosecutors allege that he neglected to properly coordinate the work of the city administration and didn’t organise sufficient environmental monitoring.

The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against Norilsk Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin and charged him with negligence following the catastrophic diesel oil spill that had erupted from a local power plant’s storage tank, threatening a huge, pristine area of Arctic wilderness, TASS quoted Investigative Committee’s Spokesperson Svetlana Petrenko as telling reporters on June 11.

“The Russian Investigative Committee’s Main Investigative Directorate is pressing a criminal negligence charge against Norilsk Mayor Rinat Akhmetchin over his failure to fulfill his duties in an emergency triggered by a spill of oil products amounting to at least 21,100 cubic metres from a diesel fuel storage tank in Norilsk,” she said. “Akhmetchin has been charged with negligence,” Petrenko specified.

Effect of oil spill

On May 29, about 20,000 tons of fuel was spilled after an accident at the Norilsk-Taimyr energy company, which belongs to the Norilsk Nickel company – owned by billionaire Vladimir Potanin. The diesel seeped into the soil and also contaminated nearby reservoirs that supply water to the local population. New data suggests oil has also been found in the already heavily polluted Pyasino glacier lake, some 20km from the city.

It is the worst accident of its kind in modern times in Russia’s Arctic region, environmentalists and officials say. “A catastrophe is taking place right before our eyes. The diesel spill in Norilsk has become the first accident of such a scale in the Arctic. 20 thousand tonnes of diesel fuel have been spilled in local rivers,” Greenpeace tweeted on June 4. The oil started leaking on May 29. So far about 21,000 tonnes have contaminated the Ambarnaya river and surrounding subsoil.

Norilsk, a former center for Gulag labor camps, is the world’s northernmost large city, lying inside the Arctic Circle. It’s home to the largest-known nickel-copper-palladium deposits in the world. While this makes the area economically viable, the side effects have created huge pollution and the locality is notorious for acid rain and smog.

Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service lists Norilsk as the most polluted city in the country. It has no rail or road connections to the rest of Russia, and lies 1,500km from the regional capital Krasnoyarsk and almost 3,000km from Moscow.

On June 3, a visibly angry President Vladimir Putin demanded that the incident be dealt with as a federal-level emergency. According to the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, the clean-up will take at least 10 years. Potanin told Putin that his company will cover all expenses (estimated at over $150 million).

On June 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a state of emergency in Norilsk.

Geopolitics of the Arctic 

According to an op-ed written for Global Village Space, climate change, global warming, and new trends of power politics have brought the Arctic into unique geopolitical limelight. The melting ice-cap is altering conditions for the development of the Arctic while telescoping distances. This great shift offers opportunities and challenges. The big sea-faring powers and others can either integrate their interests or broaden the scope of existing competition.

Read more: The Arctic: Great powers and their geopolitical interests 

The abundant energy and mineral resources and reduced maritime routes between Europe and Asia are driving interest in the Arctic region. If competition becomes the leading trend, it’s likely to create demands for sovereignty, governance, and the right of passage through the Arctic.

By 2030, the trans-polar passage may become easier during summers due to receding ice-cap. The commercial maritime trade and energy routes, the wealth of natural resources that inter alia include which is an estimated 30 per cent of world’s undiscovered natural gas plus around 13 per cent of oil reserves, along with the prospects of hi-tech scientific research are some of the key aspects that are gradually setting up the Arctic region to become the modern-age destination for development, as well as an arena for neo-balance in inter-state relations.

About 80 per cent of this natural wealth and territory is claimed by Russia. The melting shores of Arctic are giving way to warm and tenuous lines, no longer keeping it the so-called Zone of Peace that the former Russian President Gorbachev envisioned in 1987. During the Arctic Council’s meeting in 2019, the United States surprised Canada – one of its closest allies – by including Canada alongside Russia and China as a security threat. The inclusion of the Arctic region in Chinese Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) Polar Silk Road plan could be one of the reasons that are stirring such reactions.

RT with additional input by GVS News Desk

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