Workers Warn of Revolt in Siberian Factory Town Hit by U.S. Sanctions

Rusal gave 271 million roubles ($4.42 million) in 2016 to three Russian regions where it has its operations, including Sayanogorsk, according to a company sustainability report.

It spent a further 140 million roubles in 2016 for general financing of social programmes across Russia, the report said.

“Rusal’s regular grants have enabled sports facilities and other amenities to be built,” Valentina Efremova, head of the factory’s youth council, said.

The only hospital in town was built with Rusal funding, the company said in a 2012 press release, as well as two kindergartens, a sanatorium, sports centers and a church.

The Day of the Metals Worker, for which Rusal throws an annual party packed with pop stars, means almost more to residents than Russia’s main festival, New Year, said ex-foreman Ivanov, who also managed Rusal’s youth union.

“If Rusal… runs into any serious difficulties, this affects the whole town,” he said.

Train, helicopter

Every day, a Rusal train takes some of the company’s 3,500 employees to its vast, steaming plant, with onsite subsidiaries handling everything from repairs to railway maintenance.

Offsite, too, the factory is woven into the fabric of the town. “The little shops, the businesses, they’re all somehow tied to the plant. Some deliver produce, others do small-scale repairs,” the Rusal smelting engineer said. Without it, the town “would wither away, of course”.

Residents track Deripaska’s comings and goings by his helicopter. This week it spent a day at the plant, factory workers said, while the businessman held a closed-door meeting with managers.

One resident said it then flew to Deripaska’s private estate in the countryside nearby. The so-called ‘oligarch’, who potentially lost $4.56 billion in just the first four trading days after U.S. sanctions were introduced, has also built a ski resort and hotel nearby, according to reports in Russian media.

Sayanogorsk, Rusal’s third-biggest aluminum plant, is where Deripaska began buying up workers’ shares during Russia’s privatization drive after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994 he became the plant’s general director at the age of 26.

When he first turned up to business meetings in the early 1990s he was known as the “lad in the cotton-wool coat” for the shabby worker’s jacket he wore, two residents said.

The Kremlin mentioned possible ‘temporary nationalization’ on Thursday, but on Friday Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that was not an option for Rusal. He said the firm had sought help with liquidity and demand for aluminum, which is already being stockpiled around the town.

“It’s not just Oleg Vladimirovich (Deripaska) who is in trouble. It is tens of thousands of jobs in the region,” Viktor Zimin, head of the Khakasia region where Sayanogorsk is located, was cited by Interfax news agency as saying last week.

“We have … one partner, and today we need to help him.”