Russia digs for diamonds to ensure supremacy in global market

Trucks carry the ore out of Botuobinsky diamond mining pit of Nakyn diamond ore field from the town of Mirny. (AFP)
Updated 08 July 2019
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Russia digs for diamonds to ensure supremacy in global market

  • Mirny was founded in the mid-1950s after the discovery of the first diamonds

MIRNY: Diamonds are forever, and so is the permanently frozen ground of Yakutia in northeastern Siberia, home to huge diamond deposits that ensure Russia’s supremacy in world production of the luxury stone. In the city of Mirny, the sun shines almost continuously during the region’s white night season in early July, with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius. But the summer does not last long. Yakutia is known for having the coldest winters on the planet, which drag on for nine dark months.
This region — rich in oil, gas and precious metals — is also home to 11 out of 12 mines belonging to Russia’s Alrosa group, the world’s largest producer of rough carats.
The majority state- and local government-owned company employs most of Mirny’s 35,000 inhabitants and contributes around 40 percent of the wider region’s budget in taxes.
Alrosa, which has been criticized by some locals for alleged environmental damage including polluting water supplies, has a reputation for secrecy but is now making efforts to demonstrate some of its work.

Inside the mines
In Mirny, a gaping hole of massive depths — the abandoned mine “Mir” — stretches out into the city. It is more than a kilometer in diameter and 525 meters deep, or nearly two Eiffel towers placed end to end.
Oleg Popov, the director of Mirny’s diamond sorting center, shows off a billiard table covered in shiny stones.
“There are 14,000 carats worth around $9 million on this table,” he said.
“Each stone must be sorted by size,” said Irina Senyukova, leaning on stones in the nearby sorting room.
To reach the next diamond deposits themselves, visitors board a 20-seater Antonov plane and head north, across the taiga, to Nakyn, where Alrosa operates two open-pit mines and is planning for a third out in the wilderness.
The most productive mine, Botuobinskaya, is currently only 130 meters deep, but the company plans to dig down 580 meters.
The operating mines will be exploitable until 2041, the company hopes.

FASTFACT

● This region — rich in oil, gas and precious metals — is home to 11 out of 12 mines belonging to Russia’s Alrosa group.

● The majority state- and local government-owned company employs most of Mirny’s 35,000 inhabitants.

● It contributes around 40 percent of the wider region’s budget in taxes.

● The operating mines will be exploitable until 2041.

Inside the mines, the temperature drops to -55 degrees Celsius in winter, which requires an increased use of explosives to extract diamonds.
“The climate has an impact on our machines, but they are adapted to the extreme conditions,” said Mikhail Dyachenko, deputy chief of the mine, standing on the edge of the precipice and wearing a safety helmet.
“Man will adapt to anything, most of the miners are natives of the region. They know this climate well,” he added.
Trucks go down the mine slowly, spiraling down thin dirt roads dug into the rock. The descent can last up to an hour.
In each ton of ground, there are around 6.2 carats of diamonds. After sorting, the rough diamonds are transported on secret flights to be sold around the world.
Some are flown to polishing centers in Moscow and Smolensk, a city in Western Russia.

Security
The process takes place under heavy security, which was tightened further since a small gang of employees stole $3 million worth of diamonds last month. The diamonds were later recovered.
Mirny was founded in the mid-1950s after the discovery of the first diamonds. Its first mine functioned until 2001, and it was closed down in 2017 after a flood killed eight people.
Last year, several dams built by the company broke and villages around Yakutia’s Vilyuy River said they could no longer use it as a water source.
Russia’s environment watchdog estimated the damage to the Vilyuy basin at 22.1 billion rubles (over $330 million) but said Alrosa would not be held accountable as the accident was caused by a natural disaster.
Separately, the company said in April it would provide 833 million rubles over five years for a program to improve the quality of drinking water in the river area.
Miners are exclusively men, predominantly from the region but also from the rest of Russia. Planes or helicopters carry the miners to the sites, where they work 11 hours a day for two weeks, then have a two-week break.
“Local, indigenous communities lived here, and still live nearby — they are reindeer herders, but some of them go to the city to look for work,” said Dmitry Averyanov, who drives trucks that survey the mines.
As for the future, Alrosa is looking for ways to reopen Mirny’s mine. Works are not due to start before 2024 and their cost is estimated at 73 million rubles.


Huawei in public test as it unveils sanction-hit phone

Updated 19 September 2019

Huawei in public test as it unveils sanction-hit phone

  • Hit by US sanctions, Huawei's Mate 30 will not be allowed to use Google’s Play Store
  • Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.
BERLIN: Chinese tech giant Huawei launches its latest high-end smartphone in Munich on Thursday, the first that could be void of popular Google apps because of US sanctions.
Observers are asking whether a phone without the Silicon Valley software that users have come to depend on can succeed, or whether Huawei will have found a way for buyers to install popular apps despite the constraints.
The company has maintained a veil of secrecy over its plans, set to be dropped at a 1200 GMT press conference revealing the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro models.
Huawei, targeted directly by the United States as part of a broader trade conflict with Beijing, was added to a “blacklist” in Washington in May.
Since then, it has been illegal for American firms to do business with the Chinese firm, suspected of espionage by President Donald Trump and his administration.
As a result, the new Mate will run on a freely available version of Android, the world’s most-used phone operating system that is owned by the search engine heavyweight.
While Mate 30 owners will experience little difference in the use of the system, the lack of Google’s Play Store — which provides access to hundreds of thousands of third-party apps and games as well as films, books and music — could hobble them.
Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.
The tech press reports that this yawning gap in functionality has left some sellers reluctant to stock the new phones, fearing a wave of rapid-fire returns from dissatisfied customers.
Huawei president Richard Yu said at Berlin’s IFA electronics fair this month that his engineers found a “very simple” way to install the hottest apps without going via the Play Store.
Huawei could offer its own app store in a preliminary version, setting itself up as a competitor to the dominant Apple and Google offerings, observers speculate.
Over the longer term, the company could build out a similar “ecosystem” of devices, apps and services as the Silicon Valley companies that would bind users more closely to it.
The world’s second-largest smartphone maker after Samsung, Huawei earlier this month presented its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS, a potential replacement for Android.
The Mate 30 will not yet have HarmonyOS installed.
But it could make for a new round in the decades-old “OS wars” between Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac OS, then Android versus Apple’s iOS.
Meanwhile, Eric Xu, current holder of Huawei’s rotating chief executive chair, has urged Europe to foster an alternative to Google and Apple.
That could provide an opening for Huawei to build up Europe’s market of 500 million well-off consumers as a stronghold against American rivals.
“If Europe had its own ecosystem for smart devices, Huawei would use it... that would resolve the problem of European digital dependency” on the United States, Xu told German business daily Handelsblatt.
He added that his company would be prepared to invest in developing such joint European-Chinese projects.