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Russia to Recruit Convicts to Clean Up Arctic Pollution

Norilsk authorities have already provided space to open a correctional center for 56 people, TASS reported. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS

Russia plans to recruit prisoners sentenced to forced labor to clean up pollution in the Arctic, the state-run TASS news agency reported Thursday, citing Federal Prison Service (FSIN) official Elena Korobkova.

The announcement follows a string of environmental incidents to hit the fast-warming region this year, most notably a massive fuel spill from a Norilsk Nickel storage tank in May that environmentalists called the largest-ever oil spill in the Arctic. Some 21,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into the soil near the city of Norilsk and waterways up to 30 kilometers away.

Speaking at an annual Arctic forum in St. Petersburg, Korobkova said an agreement has already been reached with authorities in the Krasnoyarsk region to start clean-up work in Norilsk.

Norilsk authorities have already provided space to open a correctional center for 56 people, TASS quoted Korobkova, who oversees non-prison-related punishments at FSIN, as saying.

The Arkhangelsk region is considering a similar agreement with the FSIN, she said.

Korobkova said that local authorities and other organizations already working on Arctic clean-up could take advantage of "mutually beneficial cooperation" with the FSIN. 

Climate change and widespread pollution remain hot topics in the Arctic as meteorologists reported record-high temperatures in November and December. 

In imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, sending political prisoners to labor camps in remote parts of Siberia and the Arctic was a common practice. 

In modern-day Russia, forced labor has been used as a form of criminal punishment since 2017, with officials dismissing comparisons to the Stalin-era gulag camps.

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