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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Factory Seized by Workers

At 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Anton Parkansky sat in his parked Jeep outside Moskhimpharmpreparaty, a pharmaceutical factory in downtown Moscow, and watched as the small private army he had hired tried to break down the plant's doors.

About 100 workers were on hand to block the path of the 25 private security guards - and Parkansky, the newly appointed director of the plant. The private security force fought its way partly in, badly beating at least seven of the workers, including four women. One, a 58-year-old woman, was hospitalized with a broken arm.

But eventually the workers, with police assistance, threw Parkansky's troops back out. By mid-morning the national television cameras and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov were on the scene of yet another violent clash between factory workers and management-hired mercenaries.

Bizarre hostile corporate takeovers are not uncommon in Russia, where not so long ago the director of the national oil pipeline, Transneft, was removed from the building by hostile security guards - hired by his successor - who chainsawed through his office door.

Often workers are apprehensive about a wave of layoffs under new management - but the times where they have risen up to physically challenge management have been rare, and always far from the capital.

In the Urals mining town of Kachkanar last week, for example, a controversial new general director of a vanadium metals producer had his hired guards drive back angry workers - first with fire hoses, and then by firing over their heads with Kalashnikovs.

Coal miners have also some summers lain down on railroad tracks to protest their poverty, and a pulp and paper mill near the Russian-Finnish border earned national notoriety during a two-year worker lockout of management that was only recently resolved, after several violent clashes.

Moskhimpharmpreparaty is simply the latest such tale. It is a wholly state-owned company - the largest non-privatized pharmaceutical plant left in Russia - and it produces more than 240 different kinds of medicines. It is a major supplier of medicines for the Defense Ministry, it is by most accounts financially healthy, it has grown steadily over the past decade and its 1,600 workers earn an average monthly salary of 5,000 rubles (about $175).

That is not a bad salary for Russia, so workers were dismayed when the factory's director, Vladimir Fyodorov, was dismissed last week. Fyodorov had been at the company since 1975, when he was 25; he had been director for the past 13 years.

Fyodorov's contract to run the factory expired on Jan. 31, and the government opted not to renew it. Moskhimpharmpreparaty workers say that a representative of the Economics Ministry, which acts for the government in supervising their company, told them the ministry preferred to find someone "younger" - the 31-year-old Parkansky, who until recently was the deputy director of the private pharmaceutical holding Vremya.

But Fyodorov - who celebrated his 50th birthday on Feb. 1 - has refused to step aside, and instead went on sick leave - a sort of legal limbo under Russian law.

Fyodorov has earned support for his passive defiance from some Moskhimpharmpreparaty workers, who say that Parkansky is only being brought in as part of a plan to privatize the plant, split it into several parts and hand the most profitable ones to the Vremya holding.

That was the fate of similar state-run pharmaceutical plants in Belgorod and in Voronezh: Parkansky was brought into management and Vremya quickly swallowed the choicest morsels, leaving aside the rest.

"We understand that the factory will be dragged into bankruptcy and auctioned off," said Natalya, 47, who has worked at Moskhimpharmpreparaty for 28 years.

Other workers said they worried Parkansky would oversee massive layoffs.

Under Russian law a factory director must take up his duties within 10 days; Friday was thus Parkansky's last chance to sit behind the director's desk at Moskhimpharmpreparaty without fear of a potential legal challenge to his legitimacy.

But after his mercenaries were thrown back - several of them were arrested, according to police standing guard outside the factory Friday afternoon - the Economics Ministry backed down and announced it was sacking both directors, Fyodorov and Parkansky.

Parkansky could not be reached for comment on Friday, and his Vremya holding referred all questions to the Economics Ministry.

Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants was with acting President Vladimir Putin on Friday during a visit to Krasnodar collective farms. Putin ordered Shapovalyants back to Moscow on Friday in response to a furor over plans to hike the price of vodka, and no doubt also over the factory lockout. He was in the air on Friday afternoon.

Vadim Lazutin, a spokesman for the Economics Ministry, said Friday in a telephone interview that Parkansky had been originally brought in because of concerns that Fyodorov might have been embezzling from Moskhimpharmpreparaty.

"The Tax Inspectorate found violations of currency legislation and an illegal lease, in cases where Fyodorov enriched himself at the expense of the government," Lazutin said.

Lazutin also repeated information that has been spread about the Russian press coverage of the two-week-old dispute: that Fyodorov earned a hefty salary of from $12,000 to $20,000 a month before the August 1998 ruble devaluation, and some 150,000 rubles ($6,000) after.

And Lazutin denied that Parkansky was to have overseen the factory's privatization.

Moskhimpharmpreparaty workers countered that when Deputy Economics Minister Pivovarov first introduced Parkansky as the new director, he did not mention any corruption or other concerns, but only said the company needed fresh young blood.

"Our director is 50, while Pivovarov himself is about 60. So we told him to let Parkansky take his own seat in the ministry if he wanted younger people to take over from the veterans," said Galina, 45.