Moscow (AFP) – Russia is overruling fearful big business owners and looking to shut down dozens of gigantic factories to avert accidents and the threat of terror attacks during this year’s World Cup.
The halt in production highlights the financial sacrifice Russia is preparing to make when it hosts football’s showpiece event for the first time from June 14.
But it also betrays concerns that something will go awry and a readiness to use heavy-handed tactics that could see thousands of workers going unpaid for at least five weeks.
Security analysts warn that shuttering chemical plants and other high-risk enterprises is simply dangerous.
The move is “a typical top-down order to make things look pretty that has nothing to do with actual safety,” said veteran security analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
“This is traditional Soviet showmanship.”
– Letter of concern –
China closed polluting plants and coal mines for two months across swathes of the country in 2008 to ensure the smog cleared over Beijing for the Summer Olympics.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision appears to stem from a fear of industrial accidents and the threat of plants being attacked or blown up.
“The threats of an accident and terror are closely related,” Moscow’s FBK Grant Thornton consultancy director Igor Nikolayev said.
A Putin decree from May 2017 says special security measures should cover areas around the 11 cities hosting matches and meet “a higher level of protection than those defined by the Russian government’s approved anti-terror requirements.”
A separate government directive issued a month later applied the guidelines to everything from nuclear and chemical facilities to companies transporting hazardous cargo by land or sea.
A strict interpretation of the directive could theoretically close Moscow’s only oil refinery and a deep-sea port in Saint Petersburg that — among other things — is licensed to ship radioactive isotopes.
Feverish consultations are underway between Russia’s FSB security service and industrial property owners afraid of losing money.
A private letter to the government from the RSPP big business lobby obtained by AFP warned of “extremely disagreeable social and economic consequences” if the guidelines are applied in full.
“RSPP is receiving letters from companies expressing concern about possible risks during the implementation of this government decree,” the union’s chief Alexander Shokhin wrote on November 29.
– Unpaid vacation –
Shokhin asked for an explanation that could avoid “unfounded shutdowns of company operations.”
The reply he received was brief.