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Billionaire's Plan to Save Single-Industry Towns

Published: January 31, 2014 (Issue # 1795)



  • Payment arrears at the Basic Element cement plant in Pikalyovo in 2009 resulted in protesting and a Putin visit.
    Photo: Ekaterina Kuzmina / Vedomosti

Billionaire Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element on Wednesday outlined ways to breathe new life into hundreds of single-industry towns teetering on the edge of economic collapse.

Crude state subsidies should be jettisoned, the company said. Viable towns should be supported, while no-hopers must be wound down.

A holdover from the Soviet Union, 16 million Russians live in 340 single-industry towns across the country, according to the Economic Development Ministry. Their degeneration has long been a headache both for Basic Element and the government, as they try to hold the line between their frequent insolvency and the social consequences of allowing them to fail.

Related: Deripaska Brings in Magnas Co-CEO for Basic Element

In 2009, workers in Pikalyovo in the Leningrad region near St. Petersburg blocked the main highway because local cement factory, owned by Basic Element, was on the verge of closing.

The situation was diffused only when then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew in to offer a packet of state bank loans to fund overdue salary payments and make sure Deripaska who owns many factories in far-flung regions fully understood his social responsibilities.

Not all single-industry towns have the same grave outlook as Pikalyovo. Provided government help is applied in the right places, more than half are economically robust, said Sergei Lomanov of the Center for Strategic Research, a nongovernmental think tank commissioned by Basic Element to conduct the research.

Related: State to Resettle Some Single-Industry Towns

"There is no need to drag investors into many of these towns. Usually they already have small and medium-sized businesses running that need only baseline support from local authorities and, possibly, limited additional benefits," Lomanov said.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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