Latifundism in Russia

Land Prices in Russia Reach Five-Year High
Farmland may become cheaper next year
Irina Sinitsyna
Vedomosti
December 6, 2017

The cost of farmland in Russia’s primary grain-producing regions reached its five-year peak in 2017, as valued both in rubles and dollars. This conclusion was reached by analysts at Sovecon, an agro industry research center, based on the results of an annual survey.

Amongst the fundamental reasons were the record profits made by agricultural producers in the 2016–2017 season, sparked by good harvests and relatively high ruble prices for most commodities, says Andrei Sizov, Sovecon’s director.

In addition, there has been consistently strong demand for land on the part of predominantly Russian capital in the guise of industry-specific investors, Sizov adds. Amongst the most active public buyers, Sizov identified the agricultural division of Sistema, the N.I. Tkachov Agrocomplex, owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, Russia’s agricultural minister, and Volgo-Donselkhozinvest, owned by the family of Sergei Kukura, adviser to Lukoil president Vagit Alekperov. New players, such as the companies owned by Roman Avdeyev, have also continued to expand into the agro business. On the year, from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2017, Sistema’s subsidiaries increased their land holdings by one and a half times, from 247,000 hectares to 380,000 hectares. In the spring, Volgo-Donselkhozinvest closed a deal to buy the Russsian assets of the Swedish company Black Earth Farming: a total of 244,000 hectares. In late 2016, Avdeyev’s investment vehicle Rossium purchased 99% of the Lipetsk agro holding Agronova-L, which grows grain and oilseeds on more than 70,000 hectares in Lipetsk and Tambov regions.

At the same time, Russian farmlands are still undervalued compared to agricultural land in other countries, for example in Eastern Europe, adds Sizov. In several regions such as Kursk Region, however, land prices are unjustifiably inflated, argues Alexander Krasnov, head of the legal department at the agro holding Miratorg.

Land has gone up in price in recent years, but this year growth slowed or even halted, notes Vladislav Novoselov, managing director of agro industy consulting company BEFL. According to Novoselov, the main cause of the previous price rise was an increase in agriculture’s profitability, due largely to devaluation.

In the coming year, the growth of the value of land in southern Russia could slow down significantly, and in regions located farther from export ports, land prices could stagnate altogether or even decrease, argues Sizov.

Domestic prices for all major agricultural products, especially grain, fell precipitously this year amidst a bumper grain harvest, explains Sizov. According to Sovecon, in November, the main export commodity, fourth-class wheat, was 10% cheaper in southern Russia than a year ago, 20% cheaper in central Russia, and cheaper by a third in the Volga River basin. In 2017, prices for all major commodities declined significantly, Novoselov agrees, and problems with storage and transportation considerably reduced the incomes of market players. Many of yesterday’s land buyers have taken a break in anticipation of lower prices, says Novoselov.

Especially in Russia’s central regions, land prices have already fallen, Krasnov points out.

“You can now buy land for 10% to 15% less than at the beginning of the year,” he says.

At the same time, he adds, the quality of the land on offer has improved. There is a selection of large land plots of 5,000 hectares to 6,000 hectares, and there is more cultivated land on offer. Earlier, they would have been sold for a premium, he recalls, but not anymore.

In addition, the number of speculators has decreased significantly, continues Krasnov. Holding land in anticipation of price rises is no longer profitable due to high taxes and fines for those who do not cultivate their land.

fullscreen-4ltPrices of farmland in Krasnodar (red), Rostov (dark blue), Stavropol (light green), Voronezh (beige), Tambov (violet), and Kursk (light green) from 2012 to 2017, as valued in rubles/hectare and dollars/hectare, and compared with the prices of farmland in Great Britain (Wales and East Anglia), the US (Kansas and Iowa), the EU (Romania), Brazil (Mato Grosso), Uruguay, and Russia (Krasnodar), as valued in dollars/hectare. Source: Sovecon. Courtesy of Vedomosti

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Agrocomplex Owned by Ag Minister’s Family Fourth Largest Farmland Holding in Russia
It lacks 4,000 hectares to claim third place
Yekaterina Burlakova
Vedomosti
April 25, 2017

The three leaders, as determined by the consulting company BEFL, have not changed over the past year. In first place is Igor Khudokormov’s Prodimex group (including Agrokultura’s assets), which controls 790,000 hectares of farmland. Rusagro surpassed Miratorg: they now own 670,000 hectares and 644,000 hectares, respectively (cf. the infographic, below). Rusagro’s director general Maxim Basov confirms the figures. A spokesperson for Miratorg refused to comment on the list. Nikolai Shevchenko, head of Prodimex’s agro division, cites figures that do not take into account Agrokultura, since it is Khudokormov’s personal project, leaving a total of a little over 600,000 hectares.

The N.I. Tkachov Agrocomplex in Krasnodar Territory has risen from sixth place to fourth place, having increased its holdings by 40% to 640,000 hectares. The agrocomplex lacked a mere 4,000 hectares to join the top three. The N.I. Tkachov Agrocomplex was found in 1993 by the father of the current Russian agriculture minister, Nikolai Tkachov. The company grows grain, is one of the major producers of raw milk in Russia, and the second largest rice producer. The agrocomplex also produces produces pork and beef, and has been developing a chain of stores. It currently runs over 600 stores in Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Territory, and Rostov Region.

In recent years, Tkachov Agrocomplex has vigorously increased its land holdings: in last year’s BEFL rating, it entered the top ten for the first time. In 2015, it purchased the assets of the major agro holding Valinor, which owned land in southern Russia. A former top manager at Valinor informed Vedomosti the Tkachov family acquired 170,000 hectares in the deal. The agrocomplex continued its acquisitions in 2016. In the summer, it was reported the company had purchased over 30,000 hectares of rice fields, previously owned by the Razgulyay Group. Several months later, the Tkachovs bought Parus Agro Group, a major Krasnodar agro holding, from Andrei Muravyov, ex-president of Siberian Cement and ex-Qiwi shareholder. Parus Agro had controlled nearly 100,000 hectares of arable land in Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Territory, and Adygea. Over the past three years, Tkachov Agrocomplex has increased its land holdings by 440,000 hectares, more than tripling them, according to BEFL.

Tkhachov Agrocomplex director general Yevgeny Khvorostin declined to comment for this article.

Vladimir Yevtushenkov‘s Sistema increased its land holdings most significantly. Its subsidiary, the agro holding Steppe, added 200,000 hectares over the past year, according to BEFL. Taking into account RZ Agro, which Sistema co-owns with the Louis Dreyfus Company, the corporation’s land holdings have risen to 350,000 hectares. Steppe has continued to increase its land holdings by acquiring assets, as stipulated by its overall strategy, says a spokesperson for Steppe. The goal is to increase its holdings to 500,000 hectares, company management has announced.

The past year was quite productive for major agro holdings, according to BEFL’s survey. The companies included in the 2017 list own a total of more than 12 million hectares of land, which is approximately 14% more than a year earlier. BEFL managing director Vladislav Novoselov says the last three years have witnessed a vigorous consolidation of the market. The fact is that, due to devaluation of the ruble, the return on investment in crop production has increased. Sistema’s spokesperson also agrees with this assessment.

In 2016, for the first time in three years, not only ruble, but dollar prices began to grow, Sovecon reported earlier. In Russia’s southern regions, agricultural commodity prices grew from 31% to 83%; in the central regions, from 6% to 17%; and in the Volga River basin, from 1% to 36%.

Late last year, however, it was obvious that in the future the profitability of crop production would not be so high. Domestric prices for agricultural produce have not been growing, and they have even declined for some commodities, partly because of the ruble’s resurgence, says Novoselov. Rusagro’s Basov confirms this is the case. Nevertheless, his agro holding has continued to acquire land. Taking into account the decreasing margin, land prices must drop for deals to go through, he concludes.

mobile_high-2p72017’s top ten corporate owners of farmland in Russia, in thousands of hectares. The second set numbers (in gray, in the far right column) indicates their places in the 2016 rating. 1. Prodimex + Agrokultura (790,000 ha); 2. Rusagro (670,000 ha); 3. Miratorg (644,000 ha); 4. N.I. Tkachov Agrocomplex (640,000 ha); 5. Ak Bars Agro (505,000 ha); 6. Ivolga Holding (489,000 ha); 7. Rosargo (400,000 ha); 8. Avangard-Agro (390,000 ha); Steppe + RZ Agro (350,000 hectares); Dominant Group (320,000 ha). Source: BEFL. Courtesy of Vedomosti

If you are interested in how this runaway latifundism has affected family farming in Russia, read my series of posts on the Krasnodar farmers’ protest movement and their allies in the Russian independent truckers’ movement.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Life Is Very Difficult for People”

“Life Is Very Difficult for People”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
November 30, 2017

The announcement first appeared on the doors of a cafe in St. Petersburg, and then on the social media networks: “Olivier salad, kharcho, vegetable ragout with chicken, compote or ale, bread. 200 rubles. Free of charge to veterans and impoverished pensioners.” The whole town learned about the charity campaign literally within a few days, and old people flocked from all ends of the city to enjoy the free lunch special.

No one asks for any letters, verifying a person’s income. Pensioner ID cards are not required, either. You just have to sit down at a table and you will be fed.

Czech Yard, the cafe that will not let pensioners go hungry, is a family business. 25-year-old Alexandra Sinyak, the cafe’s co-owner, came up with the idea for the charity campaign.

“It all started with an old man who came into eat, but had little money on him. My husband was working in the cafe that day. He felt sorry for the man and said that lunch specials in our cafe would be free to pensioners,” recounts Sinyak. “The old man came for lunch every day for three weeks or so. We thought we should be feeding all the old people in our neighborhood, and not once, but on a permanent basis. We hoped our colleagues would support us, and one or two cafes that fed old people would pop up in each district. We did not imagine, of course, that they would come from all parts of the city to our cafe, but life is clearly very difficult for people. They spend forty minutes, an hour traveling one way to come here. We feed everyone. We do not turn anyone down.”

At first, Sinyak recalls, for some reason the old women brought their pension receipts along with them. The amounts listed on them were 6,200 rubles, 8,000 rubles, and 10,000 rubles. [That is, these women receive, at most, a pension of 143 euros a month.] They brought other receipts as well, such as the receipts for their apartment maintenance bills, which contained almost identical sums. [In fact, the amount of my latest apartment maintenance bill is 6,285 rubles and 20 kopecks. It tends to be lower by two or three thousand rubles in the summer months, when the centralized heating system is shut off—TRR.] Many of them have adult children who are employed, but they cannot help their own old folks, because they are barely making ends meet themselves.

According to Rosstat, around two million employed Russians are paid wages below the subsistence level. If we account for the fact that this money is also spent on other family members, the number of employed but impoverished Russians is over twelve million people or 16.8% of the population, according to calculations made by experts at the Russian Federal Government’s Analytical Center. Analysts at the World Bank have argued that the percentage of economically vulnerable people in Russia is over fifty percent.  According to a World Bank report, the proportion of Russians with a daily income of less than $10 has risen to 53.7%, while 13.8% of Russians spend less than 5$ a day.

Sinyak has seen her share of employed poor people in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Four years ago, she and her husband gave birthto a premature baby. Doctors told the couple the girl would not be able to walk, talk or see, and they could not even dream of sending her to school. The Sinyaks threw all their efforts into making their baby daughter well. Now she has a slight limp, but is otherwise a normal child.

“We organized charity concerts for the children, and my husband and I simply gave their parents money because we really wanted to help them,” says Sinyak. “Now we are thinking about organizing a New Year’s party for the old people.”

At first, they posted the announcement about the free lunch specials on the cafe’s front door, but only one person showed up. It was only after Sinyak posted the announcement  on social media sites that the whole city discovered her and her husband’s lunches. Now they serve at least twenty-five free lunch customers daily.

То самое объявление

The initial announcement outside the cafe: “Dear patrons! The restaurant invites needy people of pension age and veterans to enjoy free lunches daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.” The post on the VK social network reads, “Czech Yard Cafe at 73 Sixteenth Line. All veterans and elderly people can eat lunch for free from noon to four p.m. […] We will support all cafes that can afford to do it. There are three of us for the time being. We are reposting this. Maybe a whole bunch of cafes in every district of the city will join us.”

One of their customers is 66-year-old Lyubov Volkova. She lives nearby, but she ordinarily does not walk on the side of the street where the cafe is located. She saw the announcement on VK. She spread the word to all her girlfriends in the neighborhood so they could lunch together.

“The lunch specials are a tremendous support to me. I worked my whole life. I have the title of veteran worker, but my monthly pension is 10,200 rubles, and the maintenance bill for my two-room flat is at least 7,000 rubles during the winter. I’m left to my own devices,” says Volkova, sighing heavily. “The electricity has been shut off for non-payment, and I have 15,000 rubles in unpaid fines, but I have not paid them, because I do not have the money to pay them. There are lots of people like me in our district. The people at the housing maintenance service and the electric company have become insolent. They constantly raise rates. They could not care less whether we can pay their bills or not. It is a good thing that Alexander appeared on the scene. Her cafe is charming and serves tasty food, and it is just nice to come here.”

Александра Синяк с мужем Евгением и пенсионеркой Любовью Волковой

Alexandra Sinyak, her husband Yevgeny, and pensior Lyubov Volkova

Volkova leads a rather active lifestyle. She is a member of the human rights public monitoring commission, inspecting pretrial detention centers and prisons, and she also volunteers at several public veterans organizatons. But all this work is unpaid.

“Most of the work in Russia is done by migrants. Our own people struggle to make ends meet, and they cannot get jobs. I have two sons, but they themselves have to squirm to feed their families. And I have lots of girlfriends: we left jobs at research institutes in the nineties to trade on the streets in order to raise our children. The situation was no better: everyone’s pensions were tiny. You know, I really love Russia, but everything that is happening makes me terribly sad. I want to go back to the Soviet Union. There was stability and calm then. Sure, we did not live high on the hog, but nor did we go begging. We had enough to pay for the essentials.”

Igor Bukharov, president of the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers of Russia, says the vast majority of restaurateurs have been feeding the needy for many years, but they do not talk about it.

“Societies for disabled people ask us for help, as do war veterans, as do veterans of military operations, as do the orphanages. Who doesn’t ask us for help?! Some ask to be fed breakfast, some ask to be fed lunch, some ask for help with charity suppers, and I have never heard of anyone being turned down,” claims Bukharov. “Generally, I think helping the needy is everyone’s personal affair, and we should not talk about it.”

For the time being, according to Alexandra Sinyak, they have been contacted by one only restaurant, in Sestroretsk, about arranging lunches on a permanent basis, rather than a one-off basis, and businessmen have turned up who are willing to supply their cafe with produce. Municipal councils in some large cities arrange free lunches for pensioners, but there are waiting lists, and the pensioners have to provide documented proof of their neediness. On the other hand, you can then eat free twenty-one times per quarter, says Lyubov Volkova.

Social organizations also provide assistance in the form of produce and groceries. For example, the Rus Food Fund has distributed 20,000 tons of produce and consumer goods to the needy during the five years it has operated. Right now, for example, the fund has been collecting “Food for the Backwoods” in time for the New Year’s holiday. The food will be delivered to the poor and lonely who live in villages in seven regions. Fifteen thousand people will receive assistance.

Anna Kirilovskaya has taken charge of so-called foodsharing in St. Petersburg. Volunteers collect food from various businesses, and distribute it for free to the needy. Originally, Kirilovskaya explains, the idea was to save edible produce from being discarded. The project now employs around 400 volunteers. The produce is collected almost daily, and thirty businesses give away their leftovers on a constant basis. According to the project’s website, over 113,000 kilos of produce have been saved in the different regions where foodsharing exists and there are teams of foodsavers.

“The volunteers decide themselves what to do with the food. They can take unsold soup from a cafe and pour it into sixty packets, freeze them, and eat them for the next two months. But I know that many of our volunteers take care of neighbors, families with lots of children, and old people. Some volunteers will take leftover meat that has been given to them, turn them into cutlets, and hand them out to the people they look after, but we get the most donations from vegetable warehouses. We mainly distribute fruits and vegetables,” says Kirilovskaya.

According to Kirilovskaya, the businesses most willing to help are owned by green-minded people who promise their customers fresh products and goods.

“Imagine how bakers at a private bakery feel when they have to throw their unsold goods into the trash in the evening?” Kirilovskaya wonders. “But everyone, employers and employees, likes giving away food to the needy. By the way, employees appreciate their employers more when they have this considerate attitude to their work.”

Alexandra Sinyak says she does not know what to do if hundreds of people come every day for their lunch specials, and whether she and her husband can continue to feed them at their own expense for very long.

“We decided we would do it as long as we were able,” she says.

In the coming days, she plans to make the rounds of the cafes in neighboring districts to personally persuade their owners to provide similar lunches to their own local pensioners. Sinyak is certain that someone will respond to her request.

Lyubov Volkova argues that Sinkyak should keep a count of the people who come for lunch, and if there are really too many of them, to refuse to serve everyone.

“I would not want these wonderful, kind folks to end up beggars themselves because of us poor pensioners,” she says.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Preobrazhenskaya for the heads-up

As Protests Increase, National Guard Ready to Crack Down

dimon balet
“Dimon, what’s with the ballet?” Anti-corruption protesters on the Field of Mars in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Sergei Nikolayev/DP

Experts Speak of Sharp Increase in Number of Protests in Russia
Delovoi Peterburg
November 7, 2017

According to a report by the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CEPF), the number of social and political protests in Russia has risen sharply compared to the beginning of the year.

The number of protests has been continuously growing in Russia throughout the year. In the first quarter, 284 protests were recorded; in the second quarter, 378; and in the third quarter, 445. Thus, as noted in the report, the overall number of protests has increased by almost 60% since the beginning of the year.

The analysts at the CEPF divide protests into political protests, socio-economic protests, and labor protests. They note that around 70% of protests had to do with socio-economic issues, including protests by Russian truckers against the Plato road tolls system, and protests by Russian farmers against the seizure of land by agroholdings, as well as protests by hoodwinked investors in unbuilt cooperative apartment buildings.

Political protests came in second place, including protests by supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. A total of 106 political protests were recorded in the third quarter of 2017. There were 27 labor protests in the third quarter.

The number of conflicts related to labor relations has also steadily climbed throughout the year. The number of protests caused by cases of late payment and non-payment of wages, for example, has grown as follows: 142 in the first quarter, 196 in the second quarter, and 447 in the third quarter. Thus, by the third quarter, the number of such incidents had more than tripled.

The authors of the CEPR report cites figures provided by Rosstat, according to which the amount of unpaid back wages in Russia totaled 3.38 billion rubles [approx. 49 million euros] as of October 1, 2017. The number of incidents of late payment and non-payment of wages in the third quarter of 2017 (447 companies) was more than triple the number of such incidents in the first quarter (147 companies), and more than double the number in the second quarter (196 companies).

The analysts point out that Russia has not yet put in place a system for preventing and constructively solving social conflicts, and thus protests are still nearly the only effective means for employees to defend their rights.

“We should generally expect the high number of protests nationwide to continue, especially in the socio-economic realm. This is due to the fact the problems people (hoodwinked investors, truckers, farmers, opponents of construction projects, environmental activists et al.) have been currently protesting have not been solved. At the same time, evolution of the protest movement has been greatly hampered by the lack of capable political parties, grassroots organizations, and trade unions,” write CEPR’s analysts.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Ahead Of Election, Putin Seeks Wider Mandate For Russian National Guard
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 6, 2017

0327929D-DFC1-4E65-BD89-EC9685C0B625_cx0_cy8_cw0_w1023_r1_sRussian President Vladimir Putin (second right) and National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov (third left) take part in a ceremony marking National Guard Day in Moscow on March 27. Photo courtesy of Mikhail Klimentyev/TASS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed legislation to widen the responsibility of the National Guard, an entity created last year and headed by Putin’s former chief bodyguard, to include protecting regional governors.

The bill was published on the website of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on November 6.

The Duma is dominated by the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party and supports almost all Kremlin initiatives.

The proposed change could enhance Putin’s ability to crack down on dissent or seek to impose order if there is unrest in Russia’s far-flung regions.

The National Guard reports directly to the president. Its director, Viktor Zolotov, was chief of the presidential security service from 2000 to 2013.

The initiative comes months before a March 18 election in which Putin is expected to seek and secure a new six-year term.

Putin will be barred from seeking reelection in 2024 if he does win a fourth presidential term in the March vote, raising questions about how Russian politics will play out in the coming years and how he will maintain his grip.

Putin established the National Guard (Rosgvardia) in 2016 on the basis of the Interior Ministry troops and other security forces.

Its stated tasks initially included preserving “social order,” fighting against terrorism and extremism, and guarding state facilities.

The National Guard announced that it will be also responsible for a fingerprints database, issuing weapons-possession licenses, averting “threats to state order,” and protecting information security.

Kremlinsplaining and Its Discontents

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Vladimir Putin Explains How to Debate the 1917 Revolution
Delovoi Peterburg
November 3, 2017

Discussion of the 1917 Revolution should be based on facts and documents, President Vladimir Putin emphasized in his greeting to participants of international events occasioned by the Russian Revolution’s centenary.

“The turbulent, dramatic events of 1917 are an inalienable, complicated part of our history. The revolution had a tremendous impact on the evolution of Russia and the world, and it largely defined the political, economic, and social picture of the twentieth centure,” noted the president, as quoted by TASS.

The president also said the interest of public figures, scholars, and the media in a deep and comprehensive interpretation of the era was legitimate.

“Yet I am convinced that even the most heated polemics must be based on facts and docoments, on an objective and respectful attitude to the past. I hope that your meetings, which shall bring together people from many countries, will contribute to this constructive discussion,” Putin said.

Earlier, Rossotrudnichestvo (Russian Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) reported it would be holding various events commemorating the centenary of the October Revolution at Russian Culture Houses in over eighty countries.

“Russian Culture Houses in more than 80 countries [will] host exhibitions, science conferences [sic] and seminars, which aim on delivering an objective approach to historical events to foreign audience,” the agency said.

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Attack of the Bio Samples
How Conspiracy Theories Flourish
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Vedomosti
October 31, 2017

Vladimir Putin’s story about the collecting of “bio samples” in Russia by persons unknown for unknown purposes has stirred up Russians. It is a telltale case of a double distortion and an example of society’s sensitivity to conspiracy theories, which flourish in an impoverished informational environment.

The president made his remarks at a meeting of the Human Rights Council. They were seemingly spontaneous. Council member Igor Borisov had complained to the president that, according to his information, certain people were using video surveillance systems in Russia to gather images of Russians for unknown purposes. That was nothing, responded Putin. Bio samples from different ethnic groups and regions were also being “deliberately and professionally” collected nationwide. The question was why.

The story took on even more dramatic overtones when the president’s press secretary tried to explain it.

According to Dmitry Peskov, “Certain emissaries conduct such work: employees of nongovernmental organizations and other entities.”

The Russian secret services had reported them to the president, Peskov claimed.

But you did not need the secret services to tell you this. The notion of “bio samples” is broad, including, for example, blood tests, which have been done in Russia for approximately 150 years, and performed by Russians and foreigners alike. Obviously, Putin had in mind genetic samples. Methods for rapidly deciphering DNA sequences were discovered in 1977. DNA became a research subject at approximately the same time in the Soviet Union, and nowadays genetic research is carried out worldwide. Genes and genetics are global phenomena, and the DNA of all human beings is 99% identical.

There are two main areas of research. Medical genetics, in which individual samples from sick and healthy people are studied to determine, in particular, predispositions to certain diseases, and population genetics, which studies samples from different ethnic groups in order to reconstruct the history of peoples [sic], notes biologist Mikhail Gelfand. Research objectives can overlap. Apparently, Putin had population genetics in mind, but data has long been collected in Russia for both medical genetic and population genetic research. This work has been done by pharmaceutical companies (as part of clinical trials), medical centers (as part of genetic counseling), and researchers (as part of their search for the genes that trigger diseases).

Russia has been actively involved in international genome projects. In 2015, the results of a multi-year study of the gene pool of Slavic and Baltic peoples were published. The study was done by Russian and international geneticists, and one question they explored was who the Slavs were. In the same year, the Genome Russian Project, supported by Putin, was launched. Its aim is to create an open-accesss database containing anonymous genetic information about 3,000 men and women, the indigenous people of Russia’s various regions. The project has been coordinated by an American, Stephen O’Brien. There have been no reports the secret service has any gripes with the project.

Perhaps it is a commercial conflict. Valery Ilyinsky, director of the company Genotek, told RIA Novosti that two research centers in Moscow and Petersburg had been collecting bio samples from different Russian ethnic groups and sending them to colleagues in the US for research studies, but these studies could have bee done in Russia as well.

In the absence of a foreword such as I have just provided (I wonder how much the president was told), what Putin said sounded ominous, of course. Ignorance generates feelings of fears and danger. It is one step from there to conspiracy theories about genetic weapons and a future biological war that would threaten to destroy Russians. (According to Gelfand, even theoretically, it would be possible to devise a genetic weapon only against an ethnic group that had been living in isolation for a thousand years, which does not apply to Russians.) Of course it was wrong to claim that Russians were being targeted for biological war, stipulated Federation Council member Franz Klintsevich, but one must be ready.

This was not the first time the president has been sold a pack of imaginary threats. In 2007, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev reported to Putin that bio samples were being sent from Russia to the US. They were being used, allegedly, in a program for developing a “genetic bioweapon” targeting Russians. Patrushev claimed the weapon would be capable of damaging the health of ethnic Russians to point of killing them or rendering them infertile (as reported by Kommersant). Consequently, the Russian customs service banned the export of all bio samples, including hair, blood, and clinical analyses, which threatened the lives of thousands of Russians, who needed to be paired with bone marrow donors in German clinics. The ban was lifted after public protests, but the notion has proven tenacious.

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Central Bank Says Russians Mistrust Low Inflation Figures
Yevgeny Kalyukov
RBC
October 31, 2017

A survey conducted by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has shown that most Russians had noticed a price rise for goods that, according to official statistics, had become cheaper.

Most Russians do not believe Russia’s inflation rate has slowed to 3% per annum, according to the Central Bank’s report. Commissioned by the bank, the survey showed 56% of Russians were certain that by the end of 2017 the total rise in consumer prices would be “considerably higher than 4%,” and 75% of respondents claimed that over the previous twelve months prices had risen no more slowly or even more quickly than earlier.

“People are not yet ready to believe inflation really has slowed to such a low level. A considerable role in this discrepancy has also been played by the volatility of prices for individual goods and services,” the Central Bank report says.

Zoya Kuzmina, head of the review group in the monetary policy department at the Central Bank, noted that Russians’ subjective perception of changes in prices of goods they purchase regularly was at odds with official statistics.

“In reality, sugar prices have decreased nearly by 50% on the year. Fruits and vegetables have also become cheaper, while prices for tea and coffee have increased somewhat (by around 2%). But respondents said prices for all these goods had increased,” Kuzmina explained.

According to Kuzmina, the survey’s outcome confirmed Russians “would need a little more time to get used to low inflation.”

According to the Central Bank’s reports, inFom’s October 2017 assessment of Russians’ inflationary expectations for the next twelve months had risen to 9.9%. The Central Bank, however, was confident that conditions for decreasing the populace’s inflationary expectations would emerge as inflation became entrenched at around 4%.

In early August 2017, Alexander Morozov, director of the Central Bank’s research and forecasting department, advised Russians to think less about rapid price growth, since it was just such sentiments that facilitated increased inflation.

Earlier, Central Bank chair Elvira Nabiullina warned that excessively low inflation could generate new difficulties for Russia’s “emerging economy.”

See my previous posts on the subject of official economic statistics in Russia:

Articles translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Yekaterina Kuzmina/RBC. The emphasis in the translations is mine.

 

Overtaking America

Despicable but predictable. My heartfelt thanks to Mr. Shuvalov for finally having the guts to admit what has been obvious for years: that the Russian elites and mostly nonexistent Russian middle class are sick off their asses on catching up with and overtaking the specter of “America.” So, which side never stopped fighting the Cold War? The greedy mid-level KGB officers who have been running Russia for the last eighteen years. If you didn’t know that already, it means you’ve been looking in the wrong direction all this time. And to think this is what the “struggle against imperialism” has come to. Oh, and the VTsIOM “polling data” about “happiness,” cited at the end of this article, is total bullshit, yet another smelly burp from the well-funded belly of Russia’s rampant pollocracyTRR

slogan
Screenshot of the alleged slogan of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, currently underway in Sochi. Courtesy of the festival

Shuvalov: Russia’s Goal Is For Russians to Be Happier than Americans 
Fontanka.ru
October 18, 2017

By 2024, industrious Russians with higher educations will be able to catch up with and overtake abstract [sic] Americans in terms of happiness. Such were the horizons painted by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov at the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students on October 18 in Sochi.

“Goal number one is that, when the next political cycle [sic] is completed, in 2024, anyone who has a basic [sic] higher education and the ability to work would feel happier than in the United States,” said Shuvalov, according to Lenta.ru, as cited by RIA Novosti.

A presidential election is scheduled for 2024.

According to the Monitoring Center at RANEPA’s Institute of Social Sciences, nearly 45% of working Russians do not understand the purpose and meaning of the government’s economic policies. Only 47% of Russians have a sense of the government’s actions vis-à–vis the economy.

In August, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) published the results of a poll, according to which approximately 84% of Russians consider themselves happy.

Earlier, in April, according to VTsIOM, the percentage of Russians who felt happy reached its highest level since 1990, amounting to 85%.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Screenshot of the homepage of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, currently underway in Sochi, Russia.

How a Petersburger Trucker Has Decided to Sue Plato

How a Petersburger Trucker Has Decided to Sue Plato
Venera Galeyeva
Fontanka.ru
October 16, 2017

After getting his first fine for non-payment of fees under the Plato road tolls system, a Petersburg trucker has challenged it in court. The case could become an important precedent. 

Как петербургский дальнобойщик решил «Платон» засудить
Truckers waiting outside a Plato office. Photo courtesy of Svetlana Kholyavchuk/Interpress

Individual entrepreneur Yuri Bubnov has two freight trucks, one of which is on the road, a MAN-produced box truck he uses to deliver consumer goods to Moscow and Vladimir. As a matter of principle, he has not registered the truck with the Plato road tolls system, has not put a transponder on the truck, and does not pay the new Plato fees. In 2015, he was one of the few people who took part in a road rally of truckers from Petersburg to Moscow. His runs take him past Plato sensors outside Tosno and in Tver, Klin, and Novgorod Region.

A sensor mounted on the Pokrov–Elektrogorsk segment of the M7 Federal Highway finally reacted to Bubnov’s truck on September 28. On October 6, the traffic police issued Bubnov a fine of 5,000 rubles for failure to pay his Plato road toll fees. Ironically, the very same day, the Russian government approved a fourfold increase in fines for non-payers. On October 14, Bubnov sent a letter to the Odintsovo City Court in Moscow Region challenging the decision to issue the fine and petitioning the court to move the venue for hearing the case to the Kalinin District Court in Petersburg, the plaintiff’s place of residence. The truck is registered in Bubnov’s wife’s name, so she will be acting as a defender in the case: “I consider the ruling in the administrative case unfounded and illegal, which I shall prove during the trial.” Yet Bubnov could pay a discounted fine of 2,500 rubles by October 26 and live peacefully.

Truckers have tried before to challenge the issuing of fines for failure to pay Plato road tolls, but for formal reason,s e.g., the paperworks was not drawn up properly, the truck’s owner was not behind the wheel during the alleged violation, and so on. Bubnov’s case if fundamentally different. He wants to challenge the law itself and is willing to give up at least a year of his life to do it.

Bubnov expounds his position.

“According to the Russian Federal Civil Code, damage must be paid be jointly by everyone everyone involved in causing damage. However much damage you caused that is how you pay,” he says.

[Bubnov has in mind the government’s original stated rationale for introducing the Plato road tolls system. Since cargo trucks, allegedly, cause more wear and tear on federal highways than other vehicles, the argument went, they should pay additional fees, based on the number of kilometers traveled, to compensate for this damage and thus provide more money for repairing major roads.—TRR]

“In addition, the damage I caused has to be proven. And, according to the Russian Federal Tax Code, payments cannot be arbitrary and should reflect the economic essence of the matter. Empty, my vehicle weighs 7,800 kilograms. The maximum weight of a loaded eighteen-wheeler is 44 tons. Obviously, we cause different amounts of wear and tear on the road. Why, then, should I pay the same amount as the driver of a loaded eighteen-wheeler?”

In May 2016, the Russian Federal Consitutional Court ruled the Plato road tolls system legal. Later, however, Constitutional Court Judge Gadis Gadzhiyev issued a dissenting opinion in which, among other things, he suggested clarifying the purpose of the fee, because, economically speaking, Plato is not compensation for damage, but a payment imposed on owners of heavy trucks for using the roads.

“As currently formulated, the Plato system is at odds with Russian federal laws,” says Bubnov. “By itself, travel on public roads is not an offense. There is a Russian federal government decree in which the maximum loads for different types of vehicle are set. The weight of my vehicle is legal.”

Bubnov also invokes an argument that truckers protesting Plato have made since 2015. If a toll is introduced for driving on a certain section of road, drivers should be provided with an alternative free detour. Otherwise, all federal highways would become toll roads for truckers.

Bubnov already has several legal victories under his belt. He has always served as his own defense counsel, and recently he has voluntarily defended his colleagues from different regions in court. On September 20, 2017, he won the so-called tachograph case, in which a trucker had been accused of violating work safety laws. A similar case is now being tried in Altai Territory.

If Bubnov’s appeal, as appended to his complaint against the Plato road tolls system fine, is rejected, first he will have to go to Odintsovo City Court, then to the Moscow Regional Court to appeal the ruling, and then to the Presidium of the Moscow Regional Court and, finally, to the Russian Federal Supreme Court and the Presidium of the Supreme Court. Bubnov plans to go to the bitter end with the final decision. According to his calculations, the whole process may take at least a year. If his petition is granted, the first three sets of hearings will be held in Petersburg. Bubnov plans on going the entire distance himself, without a lawyer.

“Essentially, Yuri Bubnov’s claims are correct,” says Irina Metel, executive director of the Northwest Carriers and Forwarders Union. “In practice, however, any case requires the assistance of a very competent laywer.”

“We are ready to support Yuri Bubnov in court,” says Maria Pazukhina, head of the OPR (Association of Russian Carriers) regional branch in Murmansk. “We have challenged fines before, but only on formal grounds, for example, due to incomplete lists of evidence or instances where agencies not empowered to do so tried to punish carriers. Yuri’s case is fundamentally different. In my view, the current authorities are unlikely to rule that Plato should be abolished. The OPR has been trying to detect the system’s faults in order to reveal its corruption and inefficiency. But so far we have not launched legal proceedings like this.”

“I’d been waiting for this fine for a year and a half, and I finally got it,” Bubnov told Fontanka.ru. “It’s good it came now, while the sensors have not been turned on everywhere. If the system were up and running normally, it would be harder to challenge the fine. The chances of a ruling in my favor are few, but what if suddenly the case is assigned to a judge who is about to retire and has nothing to lose, and he makes a ruling in accordance with the laws?”

FYI
According to Dmitry Pronchatov, assistant director of the Federal Road Agency, since the Plato road tolls system was launched, carriers have paid over 33.3 billion rubles [approx. 494 million rubles] into the road maintenance and construction fund. Over 900,000 vehicles have been registered in the system. The monies have been used to finance the construction of seven bridges and repairs on twenty-four emergency pipelines, as well as over a thousand kilometers of roads in forty cities and regions. Owners of twelve-ton trucks must pay 1.9 rubles for each kilometer of travel on federal highways.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Dmitry Gudkov: Making Everyone an Accomplice in Their Crime(a)

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Samples of the newly minted 200- and 2,000 Russian ruble notes. The 200-ruble note contains images from occupied Crimea.

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
October 12, 2017

There was an awkward moment when one of the first questions put to the head of the Russian Central Bank at the press conference on the roll-out of two new banknotes was a question about Crimea.

“You’ve put pictures of Crimea on the 200-ruble note. Aren’t you afraid it will affect the ruble’s [value]?”

Elvira Nabiullina had to talk about the gold and foreign currency reserves and “the state’s might,” for that was the mildest way of putting it.

Yes, yes, the reserves are particularly relevant in this instance. The Central Bank has been feverishly buying up gold for good reason: in case of new sanctions.

The rationale followed by the Russian authorities is clear. They have to implicate everyone in their Crimean adventure, whether they have traveled there or not, whether they have attended a pro-Putin rally or not, whether they have voted or not. There will be no getting away from the 200-ruble banknote. However, it is right that the first people who blush over it should be officials—officials who understand the whole thing and do not approve of it, but who have tacitly consented to it by saying nothing.

Shame, however is not smoke. It has not made anyone blind, but has only left their faces slightly reddened.

First, money was removed from people’s wallets to subsidize Crimea (you do remember what funded pensions were spent on, don’t you?), but now little pictures of Crimea have been put back into people’s wallets instead of money. We can roughly describe the entire Russian economy this way. The government takes our money and gives it back to us in the shape of TV presenter and Rossiya Segodnya News Agency director Dmitry Kiselyov, driving across an uncompleted bridge to his Koktebel estate.

Dmitry Gudkov is a former Russian MP who abstained from voting for the resolution approving Putin’s occupation of Crimea in 2014. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Irina Shevelenko for the heads-up