By Vladislav Vorotnikov

Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the government to make the Russian coal mining industry fully safe, possibly by prohibiting underground coal mining in the country. He ordered the government to conduct negotiations with labor unions and “all other involved organizations,” and to either fully prohibit launching new underground coal mines, gradually shut down all coal mines with high risks of accidents, or design and introduce new mining technologies sufficient to exclude risks of “mass accidents,” the Kremlin website said.

The new order has been issued based on the presidential meeting on December 2 dedicated to the Listvyazhnaya coal mine accident on November 25. During the meeting, Putin promised to prosecute all persons who put miners’ lives in jeopardy.

“It is unacceptable to abuse, to exploit the courage of people who go down into the mines,” Putin said. “Their lives and health must be protected. This is the personal responsibility of everyone involved in organizing production.”

Putin also instructed authorities to ensure safety standards are being adhered to at coal mines where accidents similar to Listvyazhnaya happened in the past, including the Raspadskaya coal mine where two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people in 2010.

From February 1, Russian coal companies must end all bonus payments directly or indirectly related to the output, Putin stipulated. This measure will prevent coal companies from encouraging miners to increase coal production through violating safety standards.

In 2022, the government also will adopt new regulations to increase penalties on coal mining companies for not matching safety standards and raise compensation to miners and their families in case of accidents.

Speaking on December 29, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak disclosed the government plans to stop issuing licenses to launch underground mines with high methane concentrations.

Novak said: “We need to embark on a policy aimed at decreasing the number of coal mines with hazardous conditions. In the past few years, the number of particularly dangerous coal mines in Russia decreased from 53 to 23, while the share of open-pit mines with the safe working conditions increased.”

However, Novak promised the government had no plans to close the mines recognized as dangerous altogether to keep jobs in the coal mining region.

In a separate statement on December 29, Russian Energy Minister Nikolay Schulginov said the government could design a comprehensive program of closing dangerous coal mines in Russia. Schulginov explained that the government took some measures to improve safety at underground coal mines after the Listvyazhnaya accident, and the program would be needed in case these measures do not bring about the desired result.