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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Faces Food, Fuel Shortage

Russia's mineral-rich north faces the threat of a large-scale catastrophe because of the federal government's failure to finance the yearly delivery of life-sustaining fuel and food to the region's 11 million residents, a northern governor said Wednesday.

The shipment of goods to the north has become an annual crisis since the collapse of the Soviet system, which encouraged workers to settle in the region with thicker wage packets and privileged social services. Three years in the north, it was said, and you could bank enough to buy a new car.

In recent years the federal government has scarcely managed to supply the millions of people in the region, which comprises some 70 percent of Russia's territory, with enough coal for their stoves to make it through the long winter. This year the situation is worse than ever.

Alexander Nazarov, governor of the Chukotsky autonomous okrug in Russia's extreme northeast, told reporters at the Federation Council that while 3 trillion rubles ($560 million) had been disbursed from the federal budget to pay for the yearly shipments to particularly remote areas, in fact only half that had been received.

Because the government has allowed commercial banks to provide funding for the shipments with promissory notes, 1.5 trillion rubles of this year's total was absorbed by those banks for outstanding debts, he said.

Nazarov blasted those in the government and mass media who have come to view the north as a budgetary black-hole, whose outdated and often inefficient Soviet-era industries should simply be shut down and their workers moved to a more amenable part of Russia.

"Some say we should close the north. But in that case who would provide Russia's oil, its gold, who will defend Russia's borders, who will maintain the army there?" he said.

According to Mikhail Nikolayev, president of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, the Russian north produces some 70 percent of Russia's oil and gas, 100 percent of its diamonds and most of its other precious stones. Exports from the north account for more than 50 percent of the hard-currency entering the Russian economy each year.

Nazarov, who heads the Federation Council's committee on the north, said the federal government had "no program" on how to stabilize, much less to develop, the region.

"The government has worked on a concept for developing the north, but unfortunately the entire presidential committee on the north has been working for two years with a single telephone. This sums up the government's attitude toward the region," he said.

In response, Nazarov's committee is working on five laws on the north which he said would be submitted to the State Duma in the autumn. These include laws regulating the yearly shipment of goods, on the region's many indigenous peoples and on redistricting to account for the wide discrepancy of conditions in the north.