Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has strongly criticised businessmen including billionaire Oleg Deripaska for idling plants in a northern industrial town close to St Petersburg and making hostages of workers left without wages or heating. "You made thousands of people hostages of your ambitions, lack of professionalism and perhaps simply greed," Putin said during a meeting with the businessmen and local officials in the town of Pikalyovo, where Deripaska owns a cement plant. The three factories in Pikalyovo, a town of 23,000 people, have reportedly stood idle for months, sparking protests by hundreds of people who blocked a highway this week in an attempt to draw attention to their plight.
Putin presided over a meeting in Pikalyovo this week that included Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Valery Serdyukov, governor of the Leningrad region, and Deripaska, whose Basic Element holding company controls the BaselCement-Pikalyovo plant. Putin singled Deripaska out in the meeting when Maxim Volkov, the head of PhosAgro Group, said his company had drawn up a contract on supplying raw materials that the plant would need to start working again. The prime minister demanded that Deripaska’s plant pay back wages owed to workers by the end of the day and later it was announced that wage arrears of more than RUB41m (US$1.3m) had been paid and that the plant could resume production within a week.