Russian-owned mining company puts Nunavut exploration project on ice

Nordgold says company plans to resume work in 2023, after processing 2021 drilling results.

By David Lochead, Nunatsiaq News - March 30, 2022
Nordgold is a Russian-owned mining company that operates a gold exploration project near Whale Cove, as seen here through its campsite. Nordgold will put its exploration on hiatus this year, representatives from the company told Whale Cove’s hamlet on March 17. (Courtesy Dave Smith via Nunatsiaq News)

Nordgold S.E. has put its gold exploration plans in Nunavut on hold until next year.

The Russian-owned company, which operates the Pistol Bay project, has mineral rights to an 860-square-kilometer parcel near Whale Cove. Representatives from Nordgold gave the news to the hamlet on March 17, according to Mayor Percy Kabloona.

The company wants more time to process its 2021 drilling results, which were received in February, spokesperson Olga Ulveya told Nunatsiaq News in an email.

The delay comes on the heels of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

It also comes on the heels of a major shakeup in the company’s executive roster.

Alexey Mordashov, Russia’s richest man, stepped down as Nordgold’s non-executive director on March 1. Now, Nordgold’s website lists Marina Mordashova — reportedly Mordashov’s wife — as the controlling shareholder with 52 percent of the company’s shares.

Mordashov was added to the EU’s sanction list on Feb. 28 due to his stake in the Bank Rossiya, considered to be the “personal bank” of senior Russian officials.

In response to the sanctions, Mordashov has said publicly he is not involved in the conflict and wants it to stop, as it is “a tragedy of two fraternal peoples.”

On March 7, four members of the company’s non-Russian board of directors — Michael Nossal, Brian Beamish, David Morgan and John Munro — stepped down from Nordgold as well.

Canada has also sanctioned hundreds of Russian individuals and dozens of entities, including some businesses. Neither Nordgold or Mordashov appear on Canada’s current list. The country has levied sanctions based on how the measures would impact the Russian government, Department of Global Affairs spokesperson Jason Kung said.

Nordgold, which is based in the United Kingdom, operates in Canada through its subsidiary, Northquest Ltd. The company has not been approached by Canada and continues to operate as normal, Ulyeva said.

After the invasion, Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said Russia “threatens the stability of the Arctic.”

When speaking to Nunatsiaq News, Akeeagok said the Government of Nunavut has no immediate response to Nordgold’s operations in Nunavut.

Nordgold has been operating the Pistol Bay project since 2014 and recently got approval to move its campsites closer to Whale Cove, a move the company said at the time could increase the number of people it seasonally employs from 15 to 20.

Arviat North MLA John Main said this year’s hiatus is a concern because of the lost employment opportunities and he will be looking into how to support people in Whale Cove who find themselves without work.

Main added that while he does not have knowledge about Nordgold’s business outside of Canada, the Pistol Bay project has been beneficial to Whale Cove and Nordgold has been a good corporate citizen in the hamlet.