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

___________________

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

The Poster Maker

“I’ll Go All Out to Ensure Putin Loses”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
December 5, 2017

“Citizen Putin! If there is a clampdown on public liberties under the pretext of terrorists attacks, it will be clear to everyone who is behind them!”

“Putin is war. Say no to war!”

“Dimon got what was coming to him. Let’s go after Vovan.”

“We live the way we vote.”

Dmitry Skurikhin, owner of a store in the village of Russko-Vysotskoye, near Petersburg, reacts immediately and visually to every political event in Russia.

Skurikhin immediately hangs each new poster on the front of the store, a small, two-storey building, so it is readily visible from the nearby bus stop. They usually do not stay up for long, however. The record is held by the slogan “Peace to Ukraine,” which stayed up for two weeks.

На митинге Навального

Skurikhin at a pro-Navalvy rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg

43-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin is a local businessman, whose family owns three village shops. By local standards, he is well off. His family owns several cars, and they have everything they need. However, Skurikhin says the incomes of villagers have taken a nosedive in the past year: “They buy almost nothing, because they barely have enough for food.” Around six thousand people live in Russko-Vysotskoye. Very few of them are holiday cottage dwellers. The majority commute to work in Petersburg. Skirukhin was the first businessman in the village to open self-service stores, but “then the Pyatyorochka and Magnit chains moved in, and we croaked, of course.” He now sells toys, newspapers, clothings, and sundries.

He has been hanging political posters on his store, situated along a road, for almost four years. Before that, he pasted homemade bumper stickers on his car. Skirukhin recalls that the first bumper sticker read, “No new taxes!” The year was 2005.

Skurikhin: They had decided to raise taxes on us local businessmen then. It was one of those taxes you couldn’t avoid paying. Either you worked and paid the tax or you didn’t work and didn’t pay the tax. We businessmen realized they were clamping down on us. We joined forces and beat back the tax. It made such an impression on me that since then I haven’t been able to stop going. There are at least some improvements in our lives, specifically in our village. I’m a local grassroots activist, not even a region-wide activist, but a village-level activist. I was born here, and I live and work here. My kids go to school and kindergarten here. I think I have helped improve life in our village.

Radio Svoboda: How exactly have you improved life in the village?

Skurikhin: As they call it now, I was a municipal district council member from 2009 to 2014. At the time, our district authorities were running this interesting scam. They were “milking” the villages. They would buy heat from the producer and sell it to residents. They marked up the price one hundred percent. When the situation had reached a deadlock, it transpired they were charging residents, but not paying the producer anything. They were getting heat for free. The chair of the district council was mixed up in the scam. Thanks in part to my efforts, the gentleman was conveyed directly from the district chairman’s office to prison. That was in May 2012. Since then we haven’t had any disasters with our supply of heat and water.

We still have problems sometimes, but we are now longer in that disastrous state when a group of people affiliated with district officials were just robbing people by latching onto the flow of payments for housing and utilities. Then we had problems with the road. I organized a decent protest rally. A lot of folks turned out for it: 165 people, which is a huge number for our village. We demanded the road be repaired. The road was repaired. So, by starting with small changes like that, stirring people up, I have been trying to bring them round to the idea that fair elections, free speech, and democracy mean improving the welfare of society. On May 1, we had a rally that wasn’t about the roads (we’ve had the roads fixed), but was about healthcare, fair elections, and responsible authorities. Those were the topics of our rally. 45 people showed up. The rally was authorized. I always try and authorize events with the authorities, but we rallied at the skating rink on the edge of the forest.

Кто будет следующим

“Dimon got run over. Let’s go after Vovan.” This is a reference to Alexei Navalny’s film documentary exposé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his untold riches, Don’t Call Him Dimon. “Vovan” is a humorous reference to Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, my time as district council member ended for a simple reason: our team doesn’t pay for votes. If you don’t buy yourself votes, meaning if you don’t pay off the right people during early voting, then you’re out of the race, because your opponents do pay for votes. United Russia paid 1,500 rubles per vote! All the other candidates lost.

Radio Svoboda: Did you prove in court they paid for votes?

Skurikhin: It’s impossible to prove in court, because the scam is quite competently organized. They don’t buy votes, but pay for the services of fake campaign workers, meaning they contract out their campaign. United Russia has a team of between ten and fifteen people, depending on the number of seats that are up for grabs in a specific municipal district, and they hire canvassers. But the canvassers don’t have to canvass. They just need to show up and vote ahead of time, for which they are paid 1,500 rubles a pop. That’s it. It’s perfectly legal. All the evidence is circumstantial. When I tried to get hired as a canvasser in a neighboring village, I was told I would not do, because I wasn’t registered in that precinct.

“How’s that?!” I said. “I’m a local resident. I have a store here. I know everyone in the village, and they all know me. I’ll canvass for you like nobody’s business.”

“No, no, you don’t fit us.”

“What’s the deal?”

“You’re registered somewhere else.”

It’s all clear, guys! You don’t need canvassers: you need voters, whom you buy off for 1,500 rubles apiece. I dubbed the technique “bribing a voter under the guise of paying a canvasser.” It works like a charm in all the villages, where the populace is not too savvy. The populace in general is not very savvy, but in the countryside it’s just unbelievable. The salary in these places is commonly 1,000 rubles a day [approx. 14 euros a day]. People who get a 1,000 rubles a day don’t suffer. I ran a counter-campaign against this.

When the villagers were going to vote, I would say to them, “Guys, are you really unaware that when they get seats on the council, they’ll shake a hundred times more out of your pockets?”

“I toss manure on a farm with a pitchfork for a 1,000 rubles a day. But here I’m getting 1,500 rubles for five minutes of my time. Maybe you’d like to go and pitch manure for me?” one guy told me.

That’s their whole rationale! There’s nothing more to say.

Radio Svoboda: When did you hang the first political banner on your store? How long did it stay up?

Skurikhin: It was the spring of 2014. My fifth daugther was born then. I decided to give my wife a present by building a politicized bus stop opposite the store. I fashioned the frame and the foundation. We didn’t have a stop there. People would always stand outside there, and the buses would stop to pick them up. I built a bus stop and draped it with posters. This was when the annexation of Crimea was happening. We had a couple of posters about Crimea: I demanded an end to the disgrace. Then there were posters demaning pay rises for ordinary doctors and school teachers. I was still a council member. I gathered information on how much doctors were paid in Russia. President Putin had literally just claimed that there were no doctors in Russia who were paid less than the average monthly salary in their regions. That was an outright lie. I wrote it on my poster, because I knew how much our doctors were paid. I had gathered the information in my capacity as a municipal district council member.

Radio Svoboda: How much did doctors really make then?

Skurikhin: The ophthalmologist in our village was paid 14,000 rubles, while the average monthly wage in Leningrad Region was 35,000 rubles. I think this as an absolutely proven lie. I hung it up on the bus stop. The local authorities were completely shocked by it. The stop had been turned into a shelter and was hung with banners and pasted with posters. They didn’t know what to do, so the posters stayed up for three weeks or so, I think. Then a major from Center “E” [the so-called anti-extremism police] in Petersburg came and had a long chat with me. That was April 1, 2014. I remembered the date, because it was the day the Russian State Duma issued a resolution condemning restrictions on freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I was sitting there chatting with this little vampire who was directly threatening me and my business.

“We will shut you down if you don’t stop it!” he told me.

The bus stop stood for a month, and then it had to be demolished. All that’s left is the concrete slab, where locals still wait to catch the bus.

Radio Svoboda: Who demolished it?

Skurikhin: I did, on orders from the local authorities. They told me either I had to demolish it and haul it away or they would do it themselves. Since then I have been hanging posters on the store.

I hung up the poster “I congratulate you on the 61st anniversary of the Dragon’s death. The Dragon is dead, but his cause lives on. // Russian citizens, stop being slaves. Become citizens. Kill the dragon inside you.” The poster, which showed Stalin in his casket, used to be coupled with the second part, about citizens, which was swiped by the polizei. The poster “Peace to Ukraine” broke all the records: it hung for two weeks.

Вторую часть плаката

The second part of this poster, featuring a dead Stalin and a call to “kill the dragon inside you” and “become citizens” was “swiped by the polizei.”

The local authorities, by the way, didn’t know how to react. The poster was hanging on my building. It’s my property and my land, and the poster belongs to me. It hung there for quite a long time. Other events took place, for example, the 2014 elections. I hung my campaign posters there. As a municipal district council member, I was competing for votes. I would hang up a poster. It would become stale, and I would hang up a new one. And then, when I clearly campaigned against Putin. . . For example, I had posted a banner reading, “Putin should resign.” It was 9.4 meters by 2 meters. The banner caught everyone’s eye: my store stands next to the road. Well, they just came and swiped the banner. I decided to hang up another banner. Since it was forbidden to demand Putin’s resignation, I demanded Putin be freed. Since he considered himself a galley slave, I wrote, “Free Vladimir Putin! Let’s free this galley slave. Otherwise, he and his pals will row [rake in] too much.” This banner was also 9.4 meters by 2 meters.

Radio Svoboda: It was probably removed immediately, no? 

Skurikhin: I don’t know why, but it stayed up for nearly two weeks. I saw policemen come and look at it. Maybe they didn’t get it? I can’t say how the authorities make decisions. But then they removed it anyway. I have been doing this on purpose. My goal is to ensure President Putin loses this election. During the last election, in 2012, I printed flyers and ensured that Putin got the least number of votes in our district in our precincts, although he won anyway, of course. Our precinct was among the ten worst precincts in Leningrad Region. Numbers decide everything in a democracy. I worked on the electorate the best I could.

Radio Svoboda: Do the security services often summon your for talks and try to reason with you?

Skurikhin: Earlier they did, but recently they have left me alone for some reason. I think they just realized, probably, that they should be talking to me in handcuffs, whereas talking to me just for the heck of it, what’s the point? Besides my chat with the major from Center “E,” a major from the FSB, a colonel from the FSO (Federal Protective Service), and the Investigative Committee summoned me. Each of my posters has been sent off for a forensic examination. Policemen photograph them, and the photos are sent to Center “E” and Saint Petersburg State University for analysis: they have this forensics examination center there. Their forensics experts study my posters and render their findings. If the findings are neutral, the posters are returned to me, accompanied by an official ruling refusing to file criminal charges against me. I’ve had around a hundred such posters. Each one is also accompanied by a description. The police also try to do everything by the book. In Nazi Germany, they incinerated Jews by the book. Here in Russia, they have been trying to shut me up by the book, to put it crudely.

Radio Svoboda: What grounds do the police have for removing posters from private property? How does it usually happen?

Skurikhin: First, they get a complaint either from the local council or from a resident: someone is unhappy with the poster hanging on my store. The police arrive and write me up for violating the regional law that all posters must be vetted with the local council. This little law was invented in Leningrad Region. I disagree with it, so I simply say it wasn’t so. They write me up, then they bring a slave from the local housing authority, whom they force to climb up and remove my poster. Then they leave. After which the situation proceeds as I’ve described it. Unfortunately, the forensics experts have concluded that two of my posters insulted the honor and dignity of the president and incited social discord. I try not to insult anyone. I think through all my posters and make sure that they are worded as properly as possible, because you don’t help things by insulting people. I want to persuade people to vote against Putin, persuade them we need democratic values, freedom, and liberalism. Yet two of my posters have been deemed insulting to Putin. They were the reason I was summoned to the Investigative Committee to talk with an investigator.

Radio Svoboda: Have criminal charges been filed in connection with the two posters?

Skurikhin: You know, I haven’t asked the police about it. But they did get me summoned to the Investigative Committee, where I was asked for an explanation. I was shown the findings of the forensics experts. The poster in question was “Putin is war. Say no to war.” As you remember, it was Anna Politkovskaya who said, “Putin is war.” The slogan was written with bloody smudges, so there was nothing in particular to interpret. It was clear as clear could be. The poster was deemed to have insulted Putin’s honor and dignity. I don’t think I insulted him, but the Investigative Committee does.

Radio Svoboda: What war did you have in mind when when you wrote the slogan?

Skurikhin: Any war. Because Putin is, in fact, war. We were flattening Ukraine at the time.

Radio Svoboda: Have they threatened to close your business?

Skurikhin: The major from Center “E” threatened me, but no one else has. It’s just I’ve been in business for twenty-one years, and all the agencies they could sick on me, I’ve been working with them for a long time. I have a good relationship with them. Most important, all of them are on my side. As they’re tearing down the posters, the policemen say to me, “Damn, what you write is true.” But they’ve taken an oath, they have their orders, they would immediately get hell from their commander, so they can’t say it that way. I can because I don’t have a commander. Firefighters, the guys at Health Inspection Services, they all understand what is happening in Russia. Most of them are smart people.

Против кого на самом деле надо сакции вводить

“Americans, don’t sanction all of Russia. Our head vampires got their jobs dishonestly and run things dishonestly. Sanction them!”

Radio Svoboda: Does your family support you?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. Sure, they worry about me. The situation in Russia is such that the most active dissenters are shot down. My kids are aged nineteen, fourteen, seven, and four. All of them are girls: I live in a flower garden. If I’m arrested, my wife will feed the family: she’ll be like Vassa Zheleznova. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve talked it all throgh, of course. So that’s why I try and write slogans that are legal. I have studied a ton of material on the subject. What is an insult? It’s when you compare someone with an animal. The rest can be offensive and unpleasant, but it is not insulting in the criminal sense. You can say, “Skurikhin, you’re an idiot.” Yes, it’s possible for you to have this opinion. But I think differently. But if you say, “Skurikhin, you’re a jackass,” that is an insult.

Radio Svoboda: Have other businessmen put up similar posters?

Skurikhin: There were elections to the State Duma in 2016. As a member of Parnas (People’s Freedom Party), I ran in them in my own electoral district, the southwest  district of Leningrad Region. Sergey Naryshkin, now our top spy, ran in the same district. I made the rounds of all my businessmen friends and asked them to support me. I made banners that read, “Skurikhin and Parnas are your only worthy choice.” In our part of the world, most of the shops are village shops, and they are on private property, so I was able to hang them up for free. No other candidate got that kind of support. The rest had to pay for billboards. I spent 150,000 rubles on my election campaign. My wife later gave me a piece of her mind about that. I took second place in the elections in my own village. Only Naryshkin got more votes. I got support for my posters and ideas, for saying “Putin should resign.” My fellow villagers gave me the number two spot. In my native Lomonosov District, I took sixth place, and I took eighth place in the entire electoral district, which has a population of 500,000. What does that tell you? I would argue the outcome shows that liberal and democratic ideas are popular in society, but they simply never get conveyed to the voters, since the media are totally blocked. I have no other way of telling people Putin should have been dismissed from the Kremlin long ago. I only have my posters. But, generally speaking, it’s very hard for a Parnas member to get around United Russia on the first try.

Radio Svoboda: Do you attend all protest rallies?

Skurikhin: Yes, I try to go to all of them. At the last pro-Navalny rally, in June, I was wearing a “Sick of Him” t-shirt and carrying a flag. I was taken to a police station, but I escaped. This year there were also primary elections—Naryshkin gave up his seat in the Duma when he was appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) in October 2016—and this year there were reelections. We also held events that, in my opinion, were meaningful to our district. I couldn’t let my people down, so I had to hightail it from the police station.

Radio Svoboda: Are you following the presidential campaign?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. I’ll go all out to ensure Mr. Putin loses the election, at least in my precinct. I support Navalny’s registration as a candidate and Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy, because we need as many candidates as possible in the first round just to take votes away from Putin and get a second round. If there is a second round, that will be a significant victory in itself.

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

Käppäselgä: A Godforsaken Corner of a Would-Be Superpower

Resident of Karelian Village Käppäselgä: My House Might Not Survive the Winter 
Maria Dmitriyeva
7X7
November 28, 2017

Galina Ryaziyeva

Galina Ryaziyeva, a pensioner living in the Karelian village of Käppäselgä, is afraid the roof of her home might collapse. The adjacent flats are dilapidated and are pulling the only remaining habitable section of the wooden barracks down with them. A lawsuit filed against the district council, which owns most of the house, has dragged on. Our correspondent tried to get to the bottom of the story.

The Back of Beyond
Käppäselgä is located the backwoods of the Kondopoga District. It is not just that you can encounter real bears in the village but also that it is one of the district’s northernmost corners. It is closer to the town of Medvezhyegorsk [Bear Hill] than the district’s seat, Kondopoga. Despite the seeming proximity of the Kola Highway, it is no easy trick getting to Käppäselgä, due to twenty kilometers of dirt road, reduced to rubble by lumber trucks. It took us three hours to drive to Käppäselgä from Petrozavodsk, capital of the Republic of Karelia. The last hour of the trip was spent traveling over those twenty kilometers of dirt road.

Кяппесельга.jpgKäppäselgä’s train station. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Socially, the circumstances in Käppäselgä are typical of Karelian villages. Nearly all the young people have left for the city long ago. There are ever fewer jobs available, and children can study at the local school only until the ninth form. The housing stock consists entirely of wooden houses. The amenities are outside, and fresh water is truck into the villaged. When a house is uninhabited, it rapidly deteriorates, and the roof eventually caves in. Currently, there are many such dilapidated barracks-style houses in Käppäselgä. There are also problems with transportation. A commuter train used to run twice a day (Käppäselgä has its own train station), but several years ago the schedule was reduced to once a day. So, if they want to go to Kondopoga or Petrozavodsky, villagers have to be at the station at four in the morning. The bus runs only once a week.

4Ramshackle roofs, broken windows, and empty houses are a common sight in Käppäselgä. 

Given these conditions, living in Käppäselgä is an accomplishment in itself. But the villagers face another obstacle: the unwillingness of the district council, which owns a considerable portion of the housing stock, to fulfill its responsibilities.

“It Could End in Disaster”
“I’m still afraid to sleep at night, because when the roof collapsed, it made such a racket. I jumped out of bed. I couldn’t understand what the cracklonging noise was. I went up to the attic. I could see my part of the roof was still intact, but the rest of the roof had collapsed into the flat next door,” said Ryaziyeva.

Ryaziyeva is sixty-two years old. She has had a stroke, suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and lives in a wooden house whose roof, she argues, could collapse at any moment due to inaction by the district council.

All the locals know Ryaziyeva: she worked at the local hospital for several decades. In the early 1980s, she and her husband moved into a four-flat wooden barracks, built in 1953, on Central Street. In 1984, the house was refurbished. The common corridor shared by the flats was removed, but the roof was not repanelled and reshingled. Consequently, for many years the roof would leak after heavy rains, dousing “either the ceiling lamp or the sofa.” In the 2000s, Ryaziyeva managed to get the council to repair the roof by threatening to take them to court, but according to her, the roofers the council hired for the job repaired only her portion of the roof, and slipped the old roof slats back under the new shingles.

There has not been a thorough renovation since then, and repairs that were carried out from time to time, such as replacing the window frames, were done by the residents themselves. Several years ago, when there was a hullabaloo about the nationwide housing privatization program’s coming to an end, Ryaziyeva privatized her flat. The other three flats in the house remained the council’s property.

Ryaziyeva now lives alone in the deserted barracks. Her children, grown up, have moved to the city, and her neighbors have either moved away, died or gone to prison. So, the other flats in the house are uninhabited and unheated, and so they are falling apart. The damage is so extensive that the roof in one flat has collapsed: this was the incident described by Ryaziyeva, above, when a terrible racket woke her up in the middle of the night. There is still serious danger that the rotten section of the roof above the empty flats will collapse, taking the roof over Ryaziyeva’s flat down with them. She has had to close two rooms in her own flat. The furnaces in those rooms, adjacent to the flats next door, could no longer be heated. The cold and damp swelled the wallpaper on the walls, and the window frames sagged and succumbed to rot.

2An uninhabited room in Galina Ryaziyeva’s flat

There is another problem. Uninvited guests have taken to visiting the uninhabited part of the house.

“The housing inspectorate ordered the council to make the house inaccessible to strangers. But this was not done. My son-in-law and I had to drive them out. Two men got blotto in there and fell asleep. Then I boarded up the doors myself. It could end in disaster.”

The Council Was to Blame
Ryaziyeva first sounded the alarm in 2014, but her patience ran out in 2016, when part of the roof collapsed. She made several appeals to the Kondopoga District Council, which has recently been tasked with managing all the housing stock in the district. She also contacted the prosecutor’s office, the housing inspectorate, Alexander Hudilainen, former head of the Karelian Republic, and even federal MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Her son Alexei has twice written to President Putin’s public liaison office and recently sent a letter to Artur Parfyonchikov, the republic’s new head. Their appeals and letters were not dismissed. Recognizing the problem and receiving instructions from the relevant authorities, local officials promised to deal with the situation and carry out repairs, initially, after the snow melted, and later, in the spring or summer. So, in the voluminous archive of official correspondence and documents Ryaziyeva has amassed in recent years, there is a letter, signed by acting district head Dmitry Kirpu, in which the latter writes, “By Decree No. 535, dated 9 September 2016, of the Kondopoga Municipal District, flats no. 2, 3, 4 in the multi-flat house on Central Street in the village of Käppäselgä will be demolished in 2017. (The work is tentatively scheduled for the spring or summer of 2017). You will receive more information about the dates and deadlines of the work.”

The letter even mentioned a specific estimate of the repair’s cost: 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,300 euros]. According to Yelena Paltseva, who represented the Ryaziyev family in court, this figure was also mentioned later in the process. However, an independent inspection, which the family later commissioned, showed that more money would be required to rebuild the house.

Spring and summer came and went, but no work was done. Ryaziyeva appealed to Parfyonchikov’s community liaison office on several occasions, and Anna Lopatkina and Andrei Pogodin insisted she file a lawsuit, which she finally did.

The independent inspection determined the list of repairs necessary to save the Ryaziyev family flat. While reconstructing the house, it would be necessary to separate their portion of the house from the other, uninhabited parts of house, which would involve dismantling the chimneys and removing the roof, and then partly restoring the roof, the walls, and the foundation. Currently, assessors have evaluated the physical state of their flat as unsatisfactory: “It can be inhabited provided capital repairs and reconstruction are carried out.” The work should cost approximately 400,000 rubles.


An excerpt from the court’s ruling on the inspection: “An inspection has established that part of the residential building (flats no. 2, 3, 4) are dilapidated. Major leaks in the roof, deformation of the walls, subsidence of the foundation, and buckling of the window frames and door frames have been detected. The walls are subject to massive worsening cracks, severe rotting, and penetration by draughts and frost. Flats no. 2, 3, 4 are not heated. Their furnaces and chimneys have been destroyed. The wiring is in disrepair, and the load-bearing structures are dilapidated and partly destroyed. The dilapidation of the load-bearing structures in flats no. 2, 3, 4 has caused the deformation and destruction of the adjacent walls and ceiling beams in flat no. 1, and consequently the dilapidated flats should be dismantled. It is technically possible to eliminate their negative impact[.]” 

The district council has questioned the outcome of the assessment.

“Actually, the house is not currently dilapidated,” claims Dmitry Kipru, now deputy head of the Kondopoga Municipal District. “I agree that things look bad. But currently there is no danger to the Ryaziyev flat. There are all sorts of independent assessors. We could commission a second assessment and get a different finding and a different estimate.”

In court, however, the defense refrained from challenging the assessment’s objectivity.

10The adjacent flats are in this condition.

The trial spanned several hearings. The plaintiff was present for all of them except the final hearing. Ryaziyeva would often have to get up at night, in the dark, to go to the train station to catch the train that would bring her to Kondopoga at five in the morning—sometimes only to hear that the defendant was not ready for the hearing and had asked it be postponed.

“Those trips have really worn me out over the past two years,” Ryaziyeva confesses.

In turn, Paltseva claims the defense sometimes came to hearings unprepared.

“For example, we wanted to hear the testimony of the engineer who had declared the house dilapidated. But we were constantly offered supposedly valid reasons why he could not make it to the trial. Since their lawyer was not an engineer, he could not comment on certain matters, and he would ask that the hearings be postponed. I think they were dragging things out,” says Paltseva.

Judge Olga Sysoyeva personally traveled to Käppäselgä and saw the picture with her own eyes, a picture that had earlier consisted only of testimony, documents, and photographs.

7The condition of the roof worries Ryaziyeva most of all. 

The Ryaziyevs won the lawsuit. According to the court, it was the district council’s inaction, which has the three empty flats on its books, that reduced the house to its current condition.

“The court has sufficient grounds to conclude there is a causal link between the condition of the residential building and inaction on the part of the proprietor of the council flats and the common property in the house, who has failed to carry out capital repairs,” reads the court’s ruling.

Taking into account the nature and scope of the reconstruction work and the time needed to complete it, the court set a deadline: three months from the day the ruling entered into legal force.

But this is not the end of the story. The Kondopoga District Council has appealed the ruling in the Karelian Supreme Court. In particular, according to the appeal, the defense was not satisfied the lower court had “removed the plaintiffs from equity involvement, having assigned the duty to reconstruct the multi-flat residential building singlehandedly to one of the proprietors […] the Kondopoga Muncipal District.”

During the trial, the defense attorney requested the Ryaziyevs should, in keeping with their share of the house’s overall floor space, pay 33% of the repairs. The court declined the request.

Commenting on the situation, deputy district head Kirpu repeated the demand that the Ryaziyevs co-finance the repairs, as indicated in the appellate complaint. When we asked him why no such demand had been made when he issued the decree, which was never carried out, to demolish the dilapidated flats during the spring or summer of 2017, he found it difficult to respond.

“Our lawyers vet every decree. Maybe someone overlooked something,” Kirpu speculated.

Moreover, at the end of our conversation, Kirpu informed me that money for reconstruction of the house (around 500,000 rubles) had been found among the district’s nonappropriated funds, but they had not been allocated, because the Ryaziyevs had filed suit against the council.

17Galina Ryaziyeva has to take care of her half of the house and the adjoining half of the house.

“In Karelia’s districts, people are held hostage by the inaction of the local authorities. They file lawsuits not for the fun of it, but to force councils to look for funds and fulfill their direct responsibilities in maintaining the housing stock,” argues Paltseva. “Besides, by law, a propietor can demand satisfaction if their rights have been violated, although the violations were not connected with dispossessing them of their property. A lawsuit petitioning the court to compel a defendant to act must be upheld even in cases in which the proprietor shows there is a real threat of violation of their rights due to inaction by the authorities. The assessment commissioned by the Ryaziyevs proved there was a direct causal link between the destruction of their flat and the council’s behavior. A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set, but Karelia is already snowbound.”

This means that 25 Central Street will have to survive yet another winter. Who knows whether the roof will hold out or the lintel will collapse. According to the Ryaziyevs, the the local council has deliberately delayed the process so that there will be nothing left to save and restore.

All photos by Maria Dmitriyeva and courtesy of 7X7. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the always reliable Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Maria Eismont: Moscow’s Municipal District Opposition

DSCN0811
Like other municipal district councils in Russia’s major cities, Petersburg’s Vladimirsky Municipal District Council has a meeting space and offices, and enough money to publish a newspaper and fund very minor improvements in the neighborhood, but it has virtually no political power and survives only at the mercy of city hall and the city’s legislative assembly. Photo by the Russian Reader

How Things Are Going for the Municipal District Opposition
New politicians searching for a new agenda
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 23, 2017

Sergei Sokolov was the only opposition member in the previous sitting of Moscow’s Konkovo Municipal District Council.

“I could not beat pro-regime council members when things were put to a vote, but I still managed to discourage them from doing things the neighborhood did not need,” says Sokolov, recalling his preceding five-year term on the municipal district council.

In September 2017, a team of Konkovo activists, led by Sokolov, won neighborhood elections, taking eight of the fifteen seats on the municipal district council. Sokolov was named head of the district, since Konkovo’s charter stipulates a simple majority of votes by council members to elect a district head, unlike other municipal districts. In other neighborhoods where the opposition won majorities on councils, their candidates for district heads ran into problems, since they needed the backing of two thirds of council members to win the posts, but they came up short on votes.

For the first time in many years, independent candidates won majorities in several Moscow municipal districts. In several instances, they won overwhelming majorities, but the question of whether grassroots self-government is possible in Moscow remains open.

The fact that Moscow’s municipal council members have scanty means at their disposal and insufficient powers was well known before and during the campaign. Yet now the new democratic politicians, who have taken power at the lowest level of Russia’s political totem pole, must show themselves and their voters that this is, in fact, the beginning of big and important changes in Russia.

Opposition politician Ilya Yashin, now head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District, has already gone public with the new council’s first legislative undertaking. They have suggested eliminating the current system of so-called golden parachutes for outgoing municipal district council members and municipal district heads.

Konkovo’s independent council members have gone further. Within ten days of taking office, Sokolov sent the Moscow City Duma a request for 19 million rubles [approx. 275,000 euros] in additional funds for Konkovo’s budget, paid for with an increase in the allocation of personal income tax revenues.

“There are no rational explanations for the inexplicably low, discriminatory amount of personal income tax revenues allocated to the Konkovo Municipal District’s budget,” Sokolov wrote.

Council members have proposed spending the money on neighborhood improvements, accessible legal aid for low-income people, and a Southwest Moscow History Museum.

Last week, Konkovo council members came out with a legislative initiative to amend the Moscow City Law “On the Budget’s Structure and the Budgetary Process in the City of Moscow,” proposing to set the amount of allocations to municipal district budgets from personal income tax revenues at five percent. (It is currently set at 0.96%.) Economist Vladimir Milov helped draft the bill.

“I had been thinking about this initiative for a long time, and our team was organized for this purpose,” says Sokolov.

There are traces of picture frames that once held photographs of the president and prime minister on the wall in Sokolov’s office. They have been replaced by a hand-drawn portrait of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

“I have no illusions about the bill. United Russia still has a majority in the Moscow City Duma,” says Sokolov. “I don’t yet know how we are going to lobby the bill, but we will  be employing our usual methods: media outreach, rallies, and similar public things.”

It is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which Moscow city officials would meet the opposition municipal districts halfway, voluntarily giving up some of their money and authority. But it seems extremely important the reform of local self-government continues to be discussed and elaborated.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Diana Rudakova: Seven Days in Jail for Supporting the Wrong Candidate

intro_diana 1
Diana Rudakova

Diana Rudakova, Navalny’s Tambov Campaign Coordinator, after Seven Days in Jail: “I Wasn’t Afraid and Did My Best”
Yekaterina Ivanova
7X7
November 13, 2017

Diana Rudakova, Alexei Navalny’s campaign manager in Tambov, was released on November 8 after spending seven days in the police special detention center. Rudakov was detained on November 1 after holding a well-attended rally, featuring Navalny, on October 29. 7X7‘s correspondent caught up with Rudakova and found out what her court hearing was like, what violations she was accused of, and why she went on hunger strike at the detention center.

Diana, let’s start with the background. Tell us how Tambov got ready for the meeting with Navalny this time round. As far as I know, you again had problems with the venue and contractors.

Our preparations were long and thorough. We distributed over eight thousand invitations to the meeting with Alexei. We looked for contractors and equipment. It was quite complicated, of course: people are afraid to work with us, afraid of pressure from the mayor’s office. So we looked for contractors in neighboring towns, but even that doesn’t guarantee you will get a stage and sound equipment. For example, our contractor from Ryazan turned around at one in the morning when he was halfway to Tambov. He said they had put the squeeze on him. He couldn’t work with us even though it meant he didn’t work at all that day. So we found another contractor in the middle of the night. On the day of the meeting with Alexei, we noticed all the roads around the shopping center [the meeting took place at the Bashnya Shopping Center on the outskirts of Tambov] had been blocked. We immediately made up our minds that the stage could not be transported to the venue, so we were ready to physically drag it there.

Plus, there were the sudden KVN [Club of the Funny and Inventive] performances, meant to distract young people and compete against the meeting with Navalny?

We didn’t even bother with the KVN command performances. They were trifling compared to the problems we had to solve on the eve of the meeting. But the meeting took place. It had to take place. Navalny met with supporters in a field. He spoke standing atop a speaker case and a small table. So, the simplest recipe for a successful meeting is Alexei and a group of people.

How many people showed up? How many people did you count on?

I was really happy with how the meeting turned out. I had expected half as many people to show up. We got a quite accurate count of the attendees, because we had handed out invitations, keeping the stubs for ourselves. We also counted the number of people who signed up on our mobile app. We handed out tickets to 1,243 people, and 1,291 people signed up on the mobile app. So the real number was somewhere in the middle. Plus, lots of people stood outside the fence: they didn’t come in, because it was closer to the stage. This was about two or three hundred people. So, all in all, there were about 1,500 people. This makes it, of course, the largest such event in Tambov history, not counting United Russia  “rallies,” where people were forced to attend.

Tell me all about your arrest. How did it happen? What were the charges? Why did they send you to jail?

Literally the day after the meeting, I came to work and saw policemen in our campaign headquarters. What was surprising was they had decided to arrest me for a solo picket I had held on October 7. Apparently, they had already written up the charge sheet and were holding onto the case file like a trump card, which they could pull out when it suited them and punish me. After detaining me at the office, they took me straight to the Soviet District Court. If a Navalny campaign volunteer is tried in the Soviet District Court, there’s a 100% likelihood of jail time. As we were approaching the court building, but hadn’t yet entered it, the policemen were already figuring out how they would drive me to the special detention center. I asked one of them to pretend to be lawful at least and wait until after the hearing. “Diana Borisovna,” he replied, “you’re an intelligent woman, and you know things work.”

You wrote on Facebook that the hearing was a pure formality.

The hearing lasted between ten and twelve minutes. The judge came into the courtroom with a pre-prepared ruling and commenced to read it out. He didn’t let my lawyer or me make a final statement. So I was sentenced to seven days in jail. I’m certain that the punishment had to do with the regime’s need to make an example of me to others. Because the authorities have stopped authorizing meetings with Navalny altogether. Holding meetings on private premises would have been a way out of this impasse. After our successful meeting, the federal campaign headquarters decided to focus on this format.

What prompted you to go on hunger strike?

After I found that my deputy coordinators and campaign office volunteers had been detained and sentenced to jail, I realized things could not go on this way and I went on hunger strike. [Leonid Yarygin was sentenced to 25 days in jail; Igor Slivin, to 20 days in jail and a fine of 300,000 rubles; and Margarita Zaitseva, to 5 days in jail.]

When you were in the detention center could you receive information from the outside? Did you know that many people tried to support you emotionally, that they handed out leaflets and circulated petitions?

A huge thanks to the folks and reporters, my friends and comrades who helped me on the outside by signing petitions, writing letters, reaching out to the independent media, and publicizing what happened to our campaign staff. After I went on hunger strike, a policeman immediately (ten minutes later) came to the detention center to write me up for violating Article 19.3 of the Russian Federal Administrative Code (“Disobeying a police officer’s lawful request”), because the day before I had refused to be fingerprinted and photographed, as was my right under the law. The next day, the policeman came again to write me up for something else. The deputy prosecutor and the prosecutor, all kinds of ombudsmen and overseers kept coming and going. A doctor constantly came to see me. Not a day went by when there wasn’t someone burning with the desire to talk to me about my hunger strike. So, if I hadn’t done it, my time in jail probably wouldn’t have been so rich.

Of course, I knew many of my friends and comrades on the outside were doing a lot to publicize the nasty things that happened to our campaign staff. If it hadn’t been for them, everything would have turned out differently. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the detention center, but would have immediately been dispatched to another court, where I would have been sentenced to another stint in jail.

I simply cannot thank people enough. A huge thanks to the campaign office volunteers who kept our office running, welcomed visitors, collected signatures on petitions, and plastered the entire city with leaflets defending Leonid, Igor, and me. They held solo pickets. When I was released and I was able to see all this, I was really touched. It’s quite hard to get information in the detention center, because you’re issued a mobile phone once a day for fifteen minutes and only to make calls.

How are things in the Tambov campaign headquarters now? What are your plans for the near future? Are you ready to throw in the towel after what has happened? You’re a young woman, after all, but now you’ve been arrested and spent time in a detention center.

Now we simply have to do what we need to do. I’m guided by the famous proverb, “Do what you must, and come what may.” I’m doing my best so that in the future, however it turns out, I can say I did everything I could, whether Russia becomes free or, on the contrary, remains unfree. In either case, I won’t have to be ashamed I was afraid. I wasn’t afraid and I did my best.

Diana Rudakova is 25 years old. She graduated from the architecture and construction program at Tambov Technical University in 2015. Her graduation project won third place in the Russian Nationwide Landscape Architecture Competition, which took place in Moscow at the Central House of Architects.

In 2012, Rudakova was co-organizer of a campaign opposing the merger of Tambov’s two universities, Tambov State and Tambov Technical, a campaign in which over 1,200 students were involved. From 2015 to 2017, Rudakova worked as a landscape designer in the Tambov Municipal Amenities and Landscaping Department while also being involved in the historical preservation movement. Since May 26, 2017, Rudakov has run Alexei Navalny’s campaign headquarters in Tambov.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of 7X7 and Diana Rudakova

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

Court Extends Yuri Dmitriev’s Arrest

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Russian political prisoner Yuri Dmitriev

Court Extends Yuri Dmitriev’s Arrest to Late January
Chernika
October 12, 2017

Yuri Dmitriev, head of the Karelian branch of Memorial, will remain in police custody until next year. Judge Marina Nosova made this ruling on October 11 as part of the criminal case against the famous historian and researcher of the Stalinist Terror, who has been charged with producing pornography featuring his foster daughter. The prosecution had petitioned the court to extend Dmitriev’s arrest for three months. The defense, however, plans to appeal Judge Nosova’s ruling in the Karelia Supreme Court.

Judge Nosova also rejected an appeal made by Dmitriev’s defense counsel to disqualify  the forensic experts who have been evaluating the photographs of Dmitriev’s foster daughter, which are the main evidence in the criminal case. As Chernika reported earlier, the previous findings, reached by analysts from the Center for Sociocultural Expertise, who concluded the snapshots were pornographic, were smashed to smithereens by Dr. Lev Shcheglov, president of the National Institute of Sexology, who drew the attention of both the court and the public to the fact that the forensic experts in the Dmitriev case were not professionals, but an art historian, a maths teacher, and a pediatrician. Consequently, the court ordered a new forensic examination from the so-called Federal Department of Independent Forensic Expertise, based in Petersburg. It has transpired, however, that this “department” is an ordinary firm, founded with the minimal amount of charter capital.

Moreover, Novaya Gazeta v Sankt-Peterburge has claimed the pompously named firm is registered in a flat on Srednayaya Podyacheskaya Street in Petersburg. The firm was recommended to the court by Petrozavodsk prosecutor Yelena Askerova.

_____________________________________________________

  • Yuri Dmitriev, head of the Karelian branch of Memorial, was jailed late last year. He has pleaded not guilty, calling the case against him a “set-up.” 
  • According to Dmitriev’s defense attorney Viktor Anufriev, the photographs found on the historian’s computer, which are essentially the main evidence against him, are not pornographic, but a record of the child’s health.  Anufriev also claims that shortly before Dmitriev’s arrest someone broke into his flat and turned on his computer. Subsequently, an anonymous complaint against Dmitriev was filed with the prosecutor’s office, and Dmitriev was detained soon thereafter. 
  • Many famous politicians, writers, actors, filmmakers, and musicians have voiced their support for Dmitriev, including Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Vladimir Voinovich, Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Zvyagintsev, Venyamin Smekhov, and Boris Grebenshchikov.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of 7X7/Barents Observer.

Read my previous posts on the Dmitriev case: