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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Region Paves Way for State Control of Firm

The Primorye region on Sunday brokered the handover of miner Russian Tungsten to new owners following a year of protests over wage arrears at the company and a Kremlin warning that Far East political leaders should resolve the dispute.

The company will cede control of production sites and allow an as-yet undetermined state firm to operate them for five years, according to an agreement signed by Governor Sergei Darkin, a representative of Russian Tungsten, and a representative of the workers. Miners will start work again on July 1, following an eight-month stoppage.

The government has made fighting unpaid wages a priority after residents of the Leningrad region town Pikalyovo blocked a federal road earlier this month to protest unpaid salaries. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited several days later to berate the owners of the town's three factories, including billionaire Oleg Deripaska, and lawmakers are considering a bill to nationalize the plants.

With about 240 workers, Russian Tungsten is the largest employer in the town of Svetlogorye. Most of the plant's workers had not been paid since this winter, and earlier this month they received letters about their forthcoming dismissal.

Following in the footsteps of the Pikalyovo residents, Russian Tungsten employees sent a letter to Putin last week. "Do we need to block a federal highway to receive our salaries? We won't survive another hungry winter," the letter said, according to Interfax.

And while Pikalyovo residents could turn their ire toward their high-profile employers, the situation around Russian Tungsten has been less clear.

Previous manager Alexander Martynov sold the miner to Seychelles-registered Granit Capital Management, regional newspapers reported last week. An unidentified representative for the owner of Russian Tungsten signed the agreement Sunday.

Medvedev mentioned Russian Tungsten in a video conference with his federal envoys on Wednesday, saying he was concerned by what he had read online about the factory. He ordered his envoy to the Far East, Viktor Ishayev, to "see these issues to their resolution."

The following day, the regional administration said the workers were paid the 6.3 million ruble ($203,400) debt by an unidentified commercial bank, which issued the sum on Darkin's guarantee.

The regional branch of ruling party United Russia will oversee efforts to restart mining operations together with the trade union, Sunday's statement said.

Darkin also promised to open three timber processing sites in Svetlogorye, employ locals for road reconstruction and lower their electricity prices.

Social tensions in the town boiled over last June, when dozens of Russian Tungsten workers went on a hunger strike over unpaid wages. In April, most of Svetlogorye's 1,600 residents turned out for protests over the situation, telling the media that they only survived last winter by eating potato peels.