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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Fines Factory for Damaging Archaeological Site

Alexander Rutskoi may not only go down in Russian history as the vice president who led an armed anti-Yeltsin rebellion in 1993 and then after a short term in jail became governor of the southern Kursk region.

He might be credited by future generations as the person who saved a piece of Russian history and orchestrated a court case that would force a local factory to finance archaeological works for years to come, archaeologists said this week.

After years of conflict between archaeologists and the Kursk Silicate Brick Factory, which operates a sand pit on the site of a medieval town, Governor Rutskoi intervened and an arbitration court ruled earlier this month that the factory has to pay 122 million rubles ($7.3 million at Saturday's official rate) in damages.

Vladimir Yenukov, associate professor of Russian history and head of Kursk's archaeological expedition, said Wednesday that the amount was likely to be reduced when the case goes before the appeals court, but would still be enough to finance the archaeological expedition. By comparison, the Kursk budget allocates 140 million rubles for all regional cultural programs.

As government funding has shrunk, lawsuits against companies that damage dig sites have become an important source of funding for archaeologists, said Andrei Oblonsky, senior research fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archaeology in Moscow.

Several such cases have been won around Russia, he said. "But the Kursk case is perhaps the largest because of the immense scale of destruction."

More than 10 hectares out of the 25 hectares on which the ancient town used to stand have been destroyed or heavily damaged by the sand pit, Yenukov said.

The factory, however, questions whether the archaeology site is really as big as the researchers say it is. The factory's deputy director, Leonid Ostankov, said independent researchers were being brought in to determine whether the site of the sand pits has historical value.

Ostankov, saying he was confident of winning the case on appeal, accused Yenukov of extortion. "The essence of the case is that we should finance Yenukov's archaeological expedition for the next 30 years," Ostankov said.

He said that before the case went to court, Yenukov had demanded 160,000 rubles for each of the next 30 years, or the equivalent of the factory's monthly payroll for its 500 employees.

Only last summer did employees start receiving their salaries on time. "How would I look the workers in the face?" Ostankov said. "Women would come to me crying because they have families to feed, and I would be financing [archaeologists'] games?"

The archaeological site, 22 kilometers west of Kursk near the village of Lipino, was discovered in 1907 and partially excavated in 1947-51, Yenukov said.

It was settled in the 6th century and by the 9th century had become the town of Lipovechsk, which was mentioned in 12th-century Russian chronicles. The town was along the Seim River, an important trade route linking the Arab and Viking worlds.

The site is valuable to archaeologists because no modern city emerged there, allowing for the preservation underground of the medieval town with its fortified center and outer settlements.

The brick factory began digging out the sand there in 1992. Yenukov said that at first, relations were good and the factory financed excavations of areas it was about to develop.

By 1993, however, relations began to sour. As the factory expanded the pit, archaeologists said they realized the town was bigger than they had originally thought. Until last year, attempts to stop the mining failed, which Yenukov attributed to a lack of support from the regional cultural department.

But last year, Rutskoi appointed Valery Lomako as the new culture department head and the situation changed. Lomako ordered the factory to stop the works.

But it ultimately was Rutskoi who made the difference, Yenukov said. The head of the archaeological team said he presented his case to the governor in May and within hours Rutskoi had "reacted like a true general" and sent officials to inspect the site.

Rutskoi was behind the arbitration suit, Yenukov said.

Ostankov refused to comment on Rutskoi's role. "I have to live in this region, you understand me," thefactory official said.