Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Acts to Forestall Mass Unrest by Miners

President Boris Yeltsin moved to quell a mounting wave of unrest in Russia's coal mines Friday, announcing he was ordering an inquiry into officials who have been holding back miners' wages.

The announcement came after coal strikes that have been simmering for weeks in Primorsky Territory in Russia's Far East showed signs of spreading westward. At noon Friday, 40,000 coal mine workers struck in Rostov, complaining they had not been paid since February.

The Russian Coal Miners Union, which represents about 80 percent of Russia's coal mine workers, will meet Tuesday to discuss a national strike. Ruben Badalov, union deputy chief, told Reuters, "There is a very high probability of an all-Russian strike."

Such strikes have become a regular feature of every autumn for the past four years. Analysts said this latest round, although serious, would probably follow the same routine, with miners calling for wages and the government scrambling to forward money and so quiet matters.

But the strikes over back wages have grown into a major political issue. Paying back wages and halting the war in Chechnya were two of Yeltsin's key pledges on the campaign trail. His defeated opponent, Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, said Thursday that Yeltsin had reneged on both.

In the Far East's Primorsky Territory -- where the latest round of strikes kicked off three weeks ago -- 11,000 mine workers are out. Strike leaders there say they will hold a mass rally Aug. 9, on the same day as Yeltsin's inauguration in the Kremlin.

Yeltsin's instructions Friday will begin an inquiry both into Primorsky coal industry officials and into the local government headed by Yevgeny Nazdratenko who are being blamed for the delay in paying wages. Yeltsin's inquiry will look at why, out of 60 billion rubles ($1.1 million) sent to pay miners in the Far East at the start of the year, only 20 billion have been paid.

Part of the purpose of the new inquiry may be to make a veiled threat to Nazdratenko -- a powerful local boss who is detested by liberal reformers.

Eight members of former prime minister Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice issued a statement Friday backing the "legitimate demands" of the Primorsky Territory miners and calling for an emergency session of parliament to declare a "special economic situation" in Primorsky.

A bill drafted by the eight deputies would let Yeltsin dismiss Nazdratenko, who was elected by a landslide in December, and to impose direct federal rule over the region.

"The hunt for [Nazdratenko] has clearly begun," said Sergei Markov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.