Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A worker loads a liquid electrolyte into the electrolysis bath at the Krasnoyarsk aluminum smelter, operated by United Co. Rusal, in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Workers at one of Russia’s biggest aluminium smelters say their Siberian town is doomed unless Moscow mitigates U.S. sanctions against aluminium giant Rusal, a predicament mirrored across the company’s sprawling operations.
Trapped by mortgages for apartments built on barren steppe under communism, residents of Sayanogorsk, one of a string of towns dominated by Rusal, have few options if a loss of customers for its aluminium leads the firm to cut jobs.
“The entire life of this city depends on Rusal,” said Evgeny Ivanov, until recently a foreman at the plant in Sayanogorsk, where pockmarked asphalt recalls the harsh winters endured by its 60,000 inhabitants, and icy blue mountains line the horizon.
“If something were to happen to the factory, in my opinion the town would die out. There would be nothing left for people to do here,” he said in one of the town’s few cafes, explaining that the private firm he now works at also depends on the plant.
The Kremlin has said it is considering various ways to help Rusal after Washington blacklisted the company and its billionaire major shareholder Oleg Deripaska for suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other alleged “malign activity”.
Deripaska has described the allegations as “ridiculous” and Russia has said they are a cover for an attack on its economy. The impact, felt in the halving of Rusal’s share price since the announcement on April 6, is too big for Moscow to ignore.
The government will have to step in “so that people don’t start howling,” said a welder who has worked at the plant in southern Siberia for more than six years.
“There are lots of people here who are unhappy with the government, and with Putin too. If the plant starts cutting staff, people will revolt,” he said, declining to be named for fear of losing his job.