Sakhalin’s Governor Resigns

Following the poor response of the local authorities to last week’s earthquake on Sakhalin, the regional governor has been forced to resign:

Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted Tuesday the resignation of Ivan Malakhov as governor of the Sakhalin Region in the country’s Far East following last week’s tragic earthquake.

President Putin appointed Alexander Khoroshavin [the mayor of Okha] acting governor of the region and also nominated him for the post.

After hearing a report from Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, President Putin criticized the relief operation and efforts by local authorities and, in particularly, the work of former Governor Malakhov.

The president ordered the minister to investigate the poorly organized relief effort, namely, why adults and children were forced to sleep on concrete floors in tents, and why local authorities and the governor failed to visit the city of Nevelsk, which was most affected by the quake.

For those of you who have been dozing at the back, regional governors in Russia are not elected: they are appointed by the president. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be Russia without volumes of intrigue and speculation surrounding the resignation:

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and one-time Kremlin insider, said Malakhov fell out of favor with Rosneft, the company Belkovsky said helped the governor take the helm of the region.

“Malakhov wasn’t persistent enough in the battle against foreigners,” said Belkovsky, citing what he said were well-connected sources.

Malakhov forged ties with the foreign companies operating on the island instead of lobbying for Rosneft’s interests, he said, adding that any new candidate will be Rosneft friendly. reported that a battle between Gazprom and Rosneft over Sakhalin oil and gas riches was the real cause of Malakhov’s departure.

Khoroshavin, the new acting governor is close to Rosneft, and he and Rosneft head Sergei Bogdanchikov have known each other for a long time, reported. They worked together at the Okhanneftegazdobycha oil company in early 1980s, it said.

Khoroshavin is the mayor of Okha, a town of 30,000 on Sakhalin Island, which is also home to a major Rosneft office.

“You could say that Rosneft won a tactical victory over Gazrpom in Sakhalin,” political analyst Rostislav Turovsky was quoted by the news portal as saying. “Now it will have an advantage in the dispute over Sakhalin-3 and Sakhalin-4 deposits.”

Whatever is going on here, it is one hell of a way to run a country.

An Earthquake Hits Sakhalin Island

An earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale has hit Sakhalin Island near the town of Kholmsk, no doubt causing several thousand dollars worth of improvements.  More seriously, one woman was killed in the nearby town of Nevel’sk when a roof collapsed.  I wrote about my visit to both of these towns last October here.

There is mild confusion in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.  The oil companies, always with one eye on a potential lawsuit, sent all their employees home before the quake had completed a single oscillatory cycle.  By contrast, the oilfield service providers refused to unlock their workers from their chains, cracked the whip harder, and laughed louder.  On the way home I noticed a lot of Russians stood around outside their workplaces doing nothing and looking gormless.  This marks a change from business as usual only by way of their physical location.

My mother-in-law has been watching the news from St. Petersburg, and has rung up to inquire as to our safety.  So far, the wallpaper is doing a good job of holding our apartment together and continues to look strong.

I wrote about Sakhalin’s earthquakes in a less glib fashion here.

Sakhalin Island On Shaky Ground

This morning our neighbouring Kuril Islands were thumped by a massive earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale.  Sitting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk I felt nothing, but the news reports say the Kuril Islands have been partially evacuated following fears of a tsunami.

It is well known that Japan lies in an active earthquake zone, and so too does Sakhalin.  Indeed, of the 12 most powerful earthquakes recorded since 1900, one of them occurred off the Kuril Islands and a further two off Kamchatka.  In 1995, 2,000 people were killed in the town of Neftegorsk in the north of Sakhalin Island when an earthquake (.pdf, see page 13) of magnitude 7.6 struck the town, causing the total collapse of all seventeen large-block buildings in the town.  The earthquake struck at night, when most of their inhabitants were at home.  An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck Sakhalin Island in 2000, but thankfully the ground has been mainly steady since then.  This is just as well, because the Neftegorsk earthquake demonstrated all too well the poor performance of Soviet era housing – which constitutes almost all the accommodation in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, including my own apartment – during a seismic event.  Concerns over the ability of the structures and pipelines of the Sakhalin II project to withstand an earthquake have formed the basis of much of the opposition to the project from environmental groups, fears the project’s owners say are unfounded.

That you live in an earthquake zone and are a potential target for a building collapse or a tsunami are easy things to forget for a Brit, but in any case there is precious little any of us can do about it.  All I can do is hope that the ground will be nice and steady during my stay on the island.