MOSCOW May 17 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin called on Monday for tighter state control of coal mining
to avoid a repeat of a blast that killed 66 people this month,
but he avoided direct criticism of the mine's tycoon owners.
Twenty-four people are still missing after a methane gas
blast on May 8 ripped through Siberia's Raspadskaya coal mine,
in which billionaire Chelsea football club owner Roman
Abramovich has a stake.
Speaking via video link to Abramovich and local officials
assembled near the mine, Putin said the system of ensuring mine
safety is broken: Funds spent on mine safety in Russia have
increased nine-fold in a decade, but deaths have not declined.
"Where specifically was this money invested?" Putin asked.
A safety watchdog directly answerable to the government
should have the power to shut mines and sanction managers
without a court order, he said. Payments to relatives of miners
killed in accidents, largely voluntary now, should be specified
Tensions are running high in the town where the blast took
place, with riot police called in last Saturday to disperse
miners and their families, who had blocked a railway line to
protest over low pay and poor safety at the mine.
In a gesture to residents of Mezhdurechensk, 3,000 km
(1,850 miles) east of Moscow, Putin ordered that all
Raspadskaya miners receive full pay while the mine is out of
But despite his reputation as a populist politician who has
scored points by scolding unpopular tycoons after other
industrial accidents, Putin avoided singling out the
billionaire tycoons present.
Abramovich, who lives in Britain, flew to the region for
the first time since the accident to take part in the video
link. But Putin did not ask him any questions or make any
comments about his absence from the disaster scene.
Putin also avoided direct criticism of Alexander Abramov,
like Abramovich a shareholder in steelmaker Evraz HK1q.L,
which partly owns the mine's operator Raspadskaya (RASP.MM).
At the risk of angering the powerful miners' unions, Putin
even hinted that miners were in part to blame for lax safety.
"Within the workforce there must be a climate of
intolerance for violations of safety rules, dealing with fire,
the use of alcohol and drugs -- this does happen ... and it's
"Only the miners can create an atmosphere of intolerance to
Regular accidents have prompted repeated calls from
Russia's leaders for improvements to creaking infrastructure
and stricter adherence to safety rules, but Kremlin critics say
little has been done.
(Writing by Conor Humphries, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)