Exploring risk and opportunity at the Dialogue

Materials World magazine
28 Nov 2018

Exciting raw materials potential meets the financial centre of the mining world. IOM3 and the St Petersburg Mining University hosted the 2nd Russia–UK Dialogue in London.

Prime Minister Theresa May used an address at the London Lord Mayor’s banquet in mid-November 2018 to proffer an olive branch. Imploring a ‘different’ kind of relationship with Russia, May stated that the UK was ‘ready to respond in kind’ to signs of cooperation with the country. But pre-empting her comments, on 24 October 2018, the second dialogue in an extended partnership between IOM3 and the St Petersburg Mining University, Russia, was held in London, exploring opportunities in the raw materials sector for both countries, and identifying the obstacles currently facing heightened collaboration.

The agendas

Many in the mining sector are keen to divorce their activities from the wider geopolitical environment, with these numerous sentiments summarised by Rt Hon Charles Hendry, UK Commissioner in the Department of International Trade, who bluntly stated, ‘We can leave politics out of the room and discuss the real issues’.

Agreeing, attendees were keen to discuss how best to provide solutions to matters including application of disruptive, if untested, technology, educating engineers in financial appraisals, and mineral trends Russia is well-positioned to benefit from.

Early in the dialogue, the public image of the mining and raw materials sectors promoted much discussion between the attendees and the first Q&A panel, chaired by former IOM3 Chief Executive, Bernie Rickinson. When the suggestion came up that mining was successfully portrayed in a negative light, Henry Sanderson, Commodities Correspondent at the Financial Times, agreed, noting that investors were encouraged to back green energy, and women-led initiatives. Nick Hatch, Managing Director of Nick Hatch Mining Advisory, stressed that the sector could benefit from current innovation in renewables use and on-site recycling initiatives, as well as promoting its greater commitment to safety.

Brexit received scant attention, but Christine Blackmore, Associate Director of Wardell Armstrong and Chair of the IOM3 Mining Technology Division, commented that the onus was on the EU27 to uphold current funding arrangements. ‘Our government has assured us they will protect Horizon 2020 arrangements. It’s up to our European neighbours to see whether they’re willing,’ she said.

Despite reticence from some attendees, others were keen to discuss how Russia’s international relationships have impacted their businesses. Maksim Tralo, Chief Representative of Hermes-Sojitz, a Hong Kong-headquartered investment fund, made note of the impact from Russia’s global status in both comments to Materials World and his panel appearance, remarking on recent difficulties working with international banks, which he attributed to a strained ‘international dialogue’.

Tralo suggested that closer collaboration with China, which purchases the majority of Russian commodities, may be a way to support work in other countries, including Bahrain, but felt this was an option more readily available to larger Russian companies, which may be less constrained by the Russian central government. Valeryiv Yazev, President of the Russian Mining Industry Community, chose positive caution, stating, ‘One of our core issues is trust and transparency. We must remain pragmatic in our global collaborations’.

Space age

Although suggestions of the use of on-site robotics was gently shot down during the fourth Q&A panel, Dr Stephen Henley, President of the International Raw Materials Observatory, said, ‘A lot of technology comes from the aerospace sector’, highlighting Russia’s prolific history in the area. ‘I think Russia has the potential to delve into robotics,’ he added.

Many comments, including from Mark Mounde, Technical Director at Wardell Armstrong, lamented the absence of a junior mining sector that might stymie grassroots activities. He continued, ‘Mine-side, Russia is a positive, it remains technologically updated. But infrastructure concerns remain – namely, dealing with the incredible cold out there.’ Chris Broadbent, Director of Research at Wardell Armstrong, delivered a prestige lecture on technological and mineral trends, and said there were technical solutions based in Russia that have gone unnoticed in western Europe (see more on page 64).

Vladimir Litvinenko, Chairman of the Russian Organising Committee and Reector of St Petersburg University, said, ‘Mining expeditions should be as attractive as IT or space. We are bad at knowing the impact of extraction,’ highlighting the role of technological innovation in accurately evaluating extraction. ‘And we should be careful to pay more attention to the earth, and less at the sky.’

Friendship is magic

In a dialogue centred on risk, opportunity and challenge, one dominant strand was the keenness for wider collaboration. As stated, May extended the olive branch in mid-November, but the UK and Russian mining communities have long celebrated the collaborative spirit of the Dialogue, and although being in his opening statement, Litvinenko perhaps best summarised the tone of the entire dialogue, saying, ‘It’s almost treason to say, but thank you to our UK friends. In the Second World War, we worked together to stare death in the face. I think the mining sector can do the same.’