Report on residents of the Nenets AO, past and present impacts of development of the NSR

(By Elena N. Andreeva ; INSROP Working Paper No. 148 – 1999, IV.4.1)


The Nenets Autonomous Okrug is expected to be an important new area of commercial interest for the Northern Sea Route by the year 2000. This region is extremely rich with hydrocarbon resources - the main reason for its involvement in the activities of the largest international and national companies.

The remoteness of the okrug from industrial areas and the self-sufficient style of life have formed a specific type of settlement among the Nenets people. All communities are located on river or marine coasts, giving people access to water transport ways and providing them with different possibilities of marine subsistence: fishery and/or marine mammal hunting (which sometimes are combined with reindeer breeding).

The appearance of a new, very active, and "aggressive" branch of economy, namely the oil and gas industry, inevitably leads to a changing of traditional land use patterns and growing social tension. Expected increase in marine vessel traffic along arctic coasts and mouths of rivers will bring disturbances of different types to traditional fishery and marine mammal hunting. It might make worse the depressed state of fishery, an important field of subsistence for local people. The main task of the local authorities is to find a possible balance between rapidly growing industrial activity and the poorly developed local economy that needs financial support. Obviously, one of the possible sources of such support could be the industrial sector, if their interrelations with local communities are characterized by an equitable partnership and mutual understanding.

Expanding use of the NSR is currently stipulated by the oil and gas industry, while needs of the local economy could be satisfied without the expensive services of the NSR. In accordance with the latest decisions of the RF government (May 1998), the delivery of necessary goods (fuel, consumer goods and food) for the local economy and population is under the direction of the local authorities. They will determine how much and by what transport means cargo should be delivered to their region. The attitude of regional authorities to the NSR could change as they investigate and compare all possible variants. Where the interests of local authorities and owners of marine vessels or industrial companies coincide, shipment of locally needed goods can be combined with general deliveries of cargo for oil fields. Local authorities could even require such shipments as a permit condition for industrial companies operating on okrug territory.

Taking into account the rather strict environmental rules of the Nenets Okrug regarding industrial activities and land withdrawal, participation of the industrial companies in “northern delivery” (famous in Russia as "severny zavoz") could have a positive influence on relations with the okrug.

From the point of view of native interest, a rapid growth of industrial activity in the Nenets okrug cannot be assessed only as a negative process which will inevitably bring land and environmental losses for the traditional economy of indigenous peoples. Native peoples of the NAO are in a very hard economic situation, formed by the transition to a market economy under conditions of sharply decreased federal support. The traditional economy is not able to efficiently regulate such a transition without outside financial help, which is expected to come from industrial companies which have commercial interests in the Nenets Okrug territory. The problem is whether local authorities will be able to place the interests of indigenous people on an equal base with other okrug interests in negotiations with industrial companies. At present, Russian law does not afford indigenous people’s organizations the right to take part directly in such negotiations, thus limiting their ability to assert their rights. One can hardly expect the situation to change in the short run owing to the failure of the Russian Parliament to adopt new federal laws strengthening the role of indigenous people.


    Elena N. Andreeva, 1999, Report on residents of the Nenets AO, past and present impacts of development of the NSR, INSROP.©