Norilsk Nickel is still waiting for Tajik officials' answer
According to the Tajik Economic Development Ministry, ministries and departments advise the government to give Norilsk Nickel the license to develop the silver deposit Bolshoi Kanimansur. The advise does not really mean anything. President Emomali Rakhmonov makes all decisions in Dushanbe, and Rakhmonov hasn't made up his mind yet. Experts are convinced that the bargaining is not over and that it will be hard. Tajikistan's policy with regard to Russian businesses meanwhile becomes less and less amiable.
Bolshoi Kanimansur is one of the largest silver deposits in the world. It contains 90.25% of all silver in Tajikistan (surveyed by B+C1 categories). The confirmed supply amounts to 39,700 tons, the total to 56,700 tons. Tajik geologists believe that Bolshoi Kanimansur contains 1 billion tons of ore (with silver, lead, and zinc in it). Norilsk Nickel appealed to the government of Tajikistan for the permission to develop the deposit and promised up to $1 billion worth of investments in the national metal mining industry.
Norilsk Nickel admitted its interest in Bolshoi Kanimansur a month ago. Its management announced then that Norilsk Nickel had made an offer to the Tajiks and was waiting for their reply. Talbon Buhoriyev of the Directorate of Industrial Development of the Economic Development Ministry told Avesta news agency yesterday that the documents submitted by Norilsk Nickel had been studied and the offer had been found adequate. Buhoriyev said the Economic Development Ministry had forwarded all documents and its own conclusions to the government. The official added that Tajikistan considered establishment of a joint venture for silver production.
Norilsk Nickel in the meantime declines comments. "The terms of cooperation are being discussed at this point," said a source close to Norilsk Nickel. Neither does the government of Tajikistan comment on Buhoriyev's statement. Sources in the government maintain that the decision hasn't been made yet because "we are still pondering the future joint venture." Experts point out in the meantime that it is parameters of the joint venture that will almost certainly become a stumbling stone in the negotiations.
"The Tajiks may be aspiring for an inadequate share. I wouldn't put it past them," Vladimir Katunin of ATON said. "The government of Tajikistan cannot invest in Kanimansur as much as Norilsk Nickel intends to. It lacks this sort of money."
Andrei Grozin, an expert with the Institute of CIS Countries, called the situation around Bolshoi Kanimansur typical of Tajikistan. Russia remains Tajikistan's principal economic partner, but the elites in Dushanbe refuse to see it as their country's only partner. "The RAO Unified Energy Systems has encountered problems in Tajikistan too, and so has Russian Aluminium with its Rogun dam project," Grozin said.
"As a matter of fact, there is a faction in the government of Tajikistan that is determined to involve non-Russian companies in projects on the territory of the country. Not necessarily companies from across the ocean, by the way. Iranian and Chinese state companies are very active in Tajikistan nowadays. The locals do not identify the outfits aspiring for Bolshoi Kanimansur, they merely say that "offers are made". In fact, the businesses may be British: Newmont that has been driven from Uzbekistan or Oxus. Some structures close to President Islam Karimov are pushing this latter into the background with the Amantaitau gold," the expert said.
In the meantime, the Russians may be encountering problems of another kind in Dushanbe. "Some figures in Rakhmonov's inner circle regard Bolshoi Kanimansur as a family business, it and the Tajik Aluminium Factory whose privatization is postponed again and again," Grozin added.
On the other hand, everything may turn out to be even more prosaic. "Forget macroeconomic considerations," Vitaly Khlyupin of Centrasia.org said. "Forget statements made by the government. It is the president who decides everything in Tajikistan."
Victor Yadukha, Aleksei Sadykov
RBK Daily, December 13, 2006, p. 6