Escape into the wild. Putin visits a forest friend in Arkhangelsk
It might seem like a mystery that Vladimir Putin last Friday visited an industrial plant located in the remotest wilderness of the Arkhangelsk region.
But the place of the visit had been carefully chosen. Oktyabrsky represents not only the Russian forest processing industry, but also an oligarch company loyal to the Kremlin.
Hardly anyone in the north Russian region knew that the state leader was on his way when the morning broke on the 10th of February.
But something was clearly in the making. Over the last days, helicopters had been in the air over the small town, and many locals had been given a day off from work.
Two journalists from regional media 29.ru had traveled to the provincial town after a federal news agency in the evening of the 9th reported about the upcoming visit. But when arriving to site the two men were soon detained by police who claimed that they did not have the necessary press accreditation.
The town of Oktyabrsky is located in the southern part of Arkhangelsk Oblast, about 500 km south of the regional capital. It has a population of about 10,000, most of whom work for the ULK Group.
The company is owned by Vladimir Butorin, the billionaire that has a close relationship with Maksim Vorobyev, the brother of Moscow regional Governor Andrei Vorobyev.
Vorobyev is believed to be close connected with the establishment around Putin.
According to the Kremlin, Putin went to Oktyabrsky to support the forestry industry and get familiar with a high-tech wood processing plant.
“We absolutely have to support the strategic development of the forest processing complex […],” Putin underlined in a meeting on site. Among his proposed support mechanisms is subsidized transportation, including by sea from ports in Northwest Russia.
Plant owner Vladimir Butorin is likely to be among the oligarchs that closely support the president and his people.
When the ULK Group was established in the mid-2000s it was in joint development with Maksim Vorobyev. The Vorobyev family pulled out of the company in 2007, but is believed to continue to have influence in the industry.
Several hundred million USD of investments were reportedly granted by the bank Otkritie, a financial organization closely affiliated with the Russian state.
According to newspaper Delovoy Peterburg, Vladimir Butorin is most likely also closely associated with Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu.
The visit to the remote forest of Arkhangelsk also fits well with the Kremlin’s narrative about relations with the West. According to Putin, Vladimir Butorin and his fellow forest processors have been let down by Europe that no longer wants to buy Russian goods. Instead, Butorin and his colleagues are now looking towards the Chinese market.
The forest processing industry faced deep crisis when economic relations with EU countries seized, and several plants were closed. But rescue has come from China, Butorin explains in an interview.
“Our company will no longer work with Europe, […] we will build relations with our Chinese comrades,” the businessman says.
Between 80-90 percent of the company’s production now reportedly goes to China.
The forest processing of Vladimir Butorin has generated great personal wealth and many jobs in a remote part of Arkhangelsk region. But far from all locals support the oligarch and his company. According to local critics, the company is seriously encroaching on protected forest lands in the region.
Experts also say that the major volumes of needed wood materials are exhausting the local forests
But Butorin and his associates have the full support of the Kremlin. According to Vladimir Putin, the forestry industry will get state aid. Including in the field of logistics to China “to the new and predictable partners.”