What Is the Russian Commonwealth?

DSCN4615“Inform us what you were not able to buy today.” Auchan Hypermarket, 47 Borovaya Street, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

For all of the Duginite propaganda about a new Eurasian bloc that was picked up by many of Putin’s supporters both within and outside of Russia, this was never a viable project. In 2009, only fifteen percent of Russia’s trade was with other members of the Russian Commonwealth.

What is the Russian Commonwealth?

Why Most Russians Will Stay Home for New Year’s

Why Most Russians Will Stay Home for New Year’s
As Incomes Crumble, Even Celebrating with Friends Is Too Expensive for Them
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Vedomosti
December 27, 2018

New Year’s, apparently, has become a truly stay-at-home holiday. The number of Russians who plan to spend the long New Year’s holiday at home has jumped from 41% in late 2015 to 70% in late 2018, according to a survey by Romir, a Russian research company. The main reason is the rapid return to the conservative tradition of growing poverty and uncertainty in the future, combined with the desire to maintain previous levels of consumption of the most vital goods and services, which no longer include a winter holiday away from home.

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“How do you plan to spend the upcoming New Year’s holidays?” Overall: at home, 70%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 19%; traveling in Russia, 2%; working, 6%; traveling abroad, 2%; other, 1%. Average monthly income per family member of 10,000 rubles: at home, 73%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 18%; traveling in Russia, 2%; working, 6%. Average monthly income per family member of 10,000 rubles–25,000 rubles: at home, 74%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 17%; traveling in Russia, 1%; working, 5%; traveling abroad, 1%; other, 1%. Average monthly income per family member of 25,000 rubles or greater: at home, 56%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 25%; traveling in Russia, 4%; working, 8%; traveling abroad, 5%; other, 2%. Source: Romir, December 2018. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Surveys of the same representative selection of respondents have shown a drop-off in all other ways of spending the New Year’s holidays, which have basically become yet another period of time off work for Russians. The number of Russians planning to spend the holidays at the dacha or visiting friends or relatives has decreased from 34% to 19% in three years. Trips within Russia have dropped from 8% to 2%, while trips abroad have fallen from 4% to 2%.  Nearly everyone has been scrimping, including Russians with above-median incomes. Fifty-six percent of Russian with monthly incomes of 25,000 rubles [approx. $364] per family memberwill stay home, as will 74% of Russians with monthly incomes between 10,000 rubles and 25,000 rubles per family member. As Tatyana Maleva, an economist from RANEPA, notes, the Russian urban middle class, which has grown accustomed to traveling, cannot afford it.

The picture emerging from the survey reflects the mood of many Russians. Since 2014, real incomes have fallen four years in a row, and all indications are they will be shown to have fallen in 2018 as well. According to Rosstat, the monthly modal income in in 2017 was 13,274 rubles [approx. $233], while the monthly median income was 23,500 rubles [approx. $412]. Given these circumstances, the ruble’s devaluation, which has made trips abroad more expensive, is not such an important factor. In December 2015, one dollar cost as much as it does currently, 67 rubles, and its value was rising.

Holidays at home are not cheap, either. In November 2018, the percentage of Russians who had noticed a rise in prices had grown in comparison with October 2018, according to the Russian Central Bank. Forty percent of Russians noticed upticks in prices for meat and poultry; 32%, rises in the price of petrol; 28%, rising prices for cheese and sausage; while 26% had noticed that milk and dairy products were more expensive. All of these goods are part of the home holiday menu.

In comparison with 2014, consumption levels have fallen. They have not returned to their previous levels. Attempting to wriggle their way out of poverty or maintain their previous income levels, Russians have taken out an ever-growing number of consumer loans, which have proven difficult to pay back. Every fourth Russian who had outstanding loans in 2015–2017 spent 30% of their incomes paying them off, note Olga Kuzina and Nikita Krupensky, economists at the Higher School of Economics, in an article entitled “The High Debt of Russians: Myth or Reality?” published in the November 2018 issue of the journal Voprosy ekonomiki.

Generally, the Russian populace has transitioned to a minimalist model of consumerism, notes Maleva. Scrimping begins literally with the New Year. As Romir’s survey indicates, this transition has become a trend that will, apparently, shape the strategies and tactics of Russian consumers in the future, too. The only thing that has not changed over the years is the president’s televised New Year’s greeting: it costs nothing.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Щасливого Різдва!

thugocratic council.jpegA recent meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights at the Kremlin. Image courtesy of kremlin.ru

I am not sure what to do with the canard, beloved of “anti-imperialists” the world over, that, because Ukraine has been less than perfectly governed, has been lousy with human rights violations, and has featured an inordinate number of neo-Nazis and other unsavory characters, it has deserved what Putinist Russia has been doing to it since 2014.

If “anti-imperialists” were consistent, they would want the same fate visited on every other country that is badly governed and has a dicey human rights record. I imagine that would mean a hundred or more countries would have to be invaded simultaneously to right all the wrongs in our world, at least as these wrongs are seen, allegedly, by “anti-imperialists.”

This begs the question of why a country with an even worse human rights record, a country governed by a tiny clique of unbelievably corrupt, violent secret police officers who have no intention of ever yielding power to any other group, much less to the country’s people, was the best qualified to invade Ukraine and show it the “anti-imperialist” light. {TRR}

Goodbye to All That

pofigin forteWhatever Forte Chewing Gum. Improves emotional baseline. Gives peace of mind. Compensates for lack of positive emotions.” Scan of package by the Russian Reader

As of today and until further notice, I will not be publishing stories about human rights abuses, political prisoners, police frame-ups, attacks on Russian human rights, civil rights, environmental, and trade union organizations and activists, and related matters on this website.

I have decided to discontinue this coverage for a number of reasons. First, most of the work I have done on this subject over the last eleven years has obviously not made the slightest dent in how the current Russian regime and its opponents are viewed in my blog’s target audience outside Russia, even among people I have thought of, mistakenly, as allies, supporters, and friends.

Second, my recent campaign to rally support and solidarity for the blog was a near-total failure. Even people who have personally benefited from coverage on the blog ignored it altogether, once again confirming to me that not many people agree with me that solidarity is a two-way street.

Finally, I’m tired of dealing with the rather large amount of snarkiness towards me and the blog. If this snarkiness were limited to weird comments by total strangers, I could deal with it just fine. But when people who know me well resort either to telling me peremptorily what I should and should not publish on the blog or, on the contrary, ignore altogether the efforts I make on behalf of campaigns and organizations in which they are directly involved, I lose all sense that what I do matters to anyone but me and a handful of apparently misguided people.

Since this is the case, I will now confine myself to dealing with other subjects that interest me. I hope they will interest my readers as well. As I now realize, however, I literally cannot do anything at all to increase overall interest in the Russian Reader, certainly not explicit, enthusiastic support for it.

So, from now on, I will devote whatever time I have for the blog to no less interesting topics, but ones in which I have much less emotional and personal investment.

It is simply too hard for me to continue as if I didn’t notice all of the things I have mentioned above.  {TRR}

Russian Trucking News

DSCN0034“Delivery for a favorite client.” A short-haul freight truck in downtown Petersburg, August 8, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Officials Want to Equip New Trucks with Special Sensors as of 2024
Carriers Are Worried Tightening Monitoring Weight and Size of Trucks Will Increase Load on Business
Elizaveta Bazanova and Vladimir Shtanov
Vedomosti
December 24, 2018

Officials have concocted a new way to monitor business. They want to equip trucks with axial-load sensors in order to combat trucks hauling loads in excess of legal weights. Legislation requiring such loads be transported by trucks weighing over 3.5 tons will be drafted by 2024. The plan is contained in the outline of the Russian government’s national Safe and High-Quality Highways project, two federal officials told Vedomosti. A spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov said the project’s outline would be approved by the cabinet on Monday.

The Industry and Trade Ministry and the Transportation Ministry would have until 2022 to draft amendments to the technical regulations of the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU), forbidding the import to Russia of trucks not equipped with the sensors. The amendments should also be inserted into Russian technical regulations before 2024, according to the national highway project’s outline. (Vedomosti has seen part of this document.) As of 2024, all new trucks will have to be equipped by manufacturers with the sensors, explained Akimov’s spokesperson. Owners of old trucks will not be forced to install them. They will have the option of installing them, says a source who has learned about the plans from a federal official.

Regulations on equipping all Russian trucks weighing more than 3.5 tons with axial-load sensors have not yet been drafted, according to spokespeople at the Transport Ministry and Rosavtodor (Russian Federal Road Agency).

Russian authorities set about establishing weight-and-size monitoring system for freight trucks in 2016. Their goal is to maintain the quality of roads and reduce the number of accidents. Automatic scales that measure the axial load of trucks have been installed on highways in test regions. If a truck is overweight, the carrier must pay a fine of up to 450,000 rubles [approx. 5,800 euros]. A total of twenty-seven checkpoints in eighteen Russian regions have been set up on federal highways. By 2024, the number of checkpoints should rise to 387, covering federal and regional highways in seventy-five regions.

The pilot program in Vologda Region has shown the average overload is thirty percent, the Transport Ministry reported. During their first year of operation, the checkpoints reduced the number of violators from forty percent to four percent.  On the federal level, the weight-and-size monitoring system will be a public-private partnership. RT Invest Transport Systems, owned by Igor Rotenberg, son of Arkady Rotenberg, and RT Invest, jointly owned by Rostec and Andrei Shipelov, has shown interest in acquiring an operating license. In June 2018, the company proposed a public-private partnership with the government.

The regions will establish their own public-private partnerships. Truck owners will be able to purchase the sensors from any manufacturer. No directives will be issued on this score, a federal official assured us.

3.74 million trucks were registered in Russia as of July 1, reports Autostat. Under the European classification, trucks weighing between 3.5 tons to 12 tons are categorized as N2. Such trucks are manufactured by KAMAZ, Iveco, Mercedes-Benz, and Renault (Midlum), among other companies. They are usually employed for short hauls, for example, from a distribution center to retail outlets, a logistics manager from a company in the consumer sector told us.

Currently, truck owners rarely install the sensors, said Boris Rybak, director general of Infomost, because equipping a truck costs owners between several tens of thousands to several hundreds of thousands of rubles. Trucks manufactured in the west that carry goods in Russia usually have the sensors pre-installed.

Alexander Lashkevich, director for relations with industrial and infrastructure organizations at the Business Lines Group, said they did not install additional sensors, since they are a standard feature on most imported vehicles, but this applies to trucks with a capacity of more than 12 tons. The new K5 line of trucks from KAMAZ features axial-load sensors as a standard feature, said a company spokesperson.  Lashkevich said Business Lines used special calculators that facilitate loading semitrailers so as to avoid overloading.

Introducing weight and size monitoring will help maintain roads, but it is not clear why small-tonnage vehicles need to be equipped with axial-load sensors. Problems with overloaded axles happen to heavy haul vehicles. Ultimately, the load on the shipping business will grow, while the expediency of the planned measures is difficult to assess, warned Lashkevich.

The sensors are not needed on low-tonnage trucks. Problems with excess weight “occur extremely rarely due to the specifics of moving people’s things to new residences,” explained Arkady Usachov, director general of Gentle Move, a moving company.

The damage to roads caused by trucks weighing under 12 tons is considerably less, said Rybak, but equipping even light trucks with the sensors is a worldwide trend: you can load even a 3.5 ton truck with up to ten tons of freight. Such systems are in operation on roads in many countries, agreed Mikhail Blinkin, director of the Institute of Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies at the Higher School of Economics.

The cost of buying and operating trucks could increase, warned Usachov.

“Freight haulage should be getting cheaper, but this approach will only make it more expensive,” argued Alexander Prokofiev, head of operations at the Moving Center. “Plato, ERA-GLONASS, and other systems will not provide real security, and they will not improve road quality. The amount of freight hauled on the roads will not decrease. Roads have to be built well from the get-go.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Media’s Russia Obsession?

trumputin

Let’s talk about the media’s so-called Russia obsession for a few minutes.

What is meant by this is that the mainstream press have devoted tons of coverage to the substantial allegations that the Kremlin mounted a massive operation, mostly via social media, to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and, further, that the campaign of the candidate who won the election actively colluded with the Kremlin, among other things, in order to discredit the candidate’s main opponent in the election. The press has also focused a lot on Robert Mueller’s special investigation of these allegations.

Is all of this press coverage sterling? No. Does the press get the story wrong sometimes? Yes.

But this has always been the case with the nominally free press in nominally democratic societies ever since the free press emerged in the eighteenth century in a few countries groping their way towards democracy. It always been biased, prone to mistakes, and otherwise wildly imperfect. And yet it has always been subject to intense scrutiny, at least in my lifetime—and the really infantile desire on the part of certain social and political forces that it be perfect—that is, perfectly biased and ventriloquizing only their viewpoints—although these same forces are rarely so critical of either themselves or other important social institutions.

In this case, the social and political forces that routinely complain about the media’s so-called Russia obsession seem to mean, in fact, that the mainstream press and the press in general should simply stop covering what is surely the story of the century: allegations that the world’s largest country massively intervened in a presidential election in the world’s most powerful country, and that the man who won the election and members of his campaign and transition team were in close contact with agents of the world’s largest country during the campaign and transition.

What kind of press would we have if they completely ignored this story?

We would have a press much like the press in the world’s largest country, which routinely ignores or severely undercovers really big stories—such as the country’s involvement in putting down a popular revolution in a third country whose people have never down anything bad to the people of the world’s largest country—or which engages in outright Goebbels-like propaganda nearly every day, leaving the really important stories to opposition liberal newspapers and online media outlets that are read and accessed by a tiny fraction of the country’s populace.

Finally, the mainstream media have not been obsessed with Russia itself, but with the alleged actions of the Kremlin, Russian secret services, and Russian internet trolls in connection with the 2016 US presidential election. Period.

There is a another Russia, populated by 143 million people, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the story of the century. They did nothing to skew the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election and, in the main, their lives, aspirations, and actions are roundly ignored by the so-called mainstream media in the west and Russia itself. They are roundly ignored by the so-called alternative media, too, for the simple reason that much of the alternative media in the west operate under the delusion that Putin is an “anti-imperialist.” By definitions, Russians who oppose his sagacious rule must be “puppets of the west.”

If all of this weren’t the case, I would have expected that one or more of these “Russia-obsessed” or “anti-Russian-obsessed” newspapers, magazines, TV channels or websites would have picked up and covered, for example, the shocking story of the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network case, in which eleven young anarchists and antifascists have been accused of involvement in a “terrorist community” dubbed “the Network.”

Most of the accused men have told the same grisly tale of being abducted by FSB-KGB field agents, who took them to remote areas in minivans or to the basements of their headquarters and tortured them for hours, using tasers and bare electrical wires, and severe beatings, attempting to force them to memorize the “confessions” they would later make (or, in some cases, refuse to make) to FSB investigators, who would then petition the courts to send them to remand prisons, where all of them are still imprisoned to this day.

The allegations of torture have been confirmed by Russian civil rights activists and defense attorneys who spoke with some of the men soon after their arrests and, in a few cases, they were also confirmed by physicians who examined the men when their wounds were still fresh.

In any case, a small but growing group of very determined people, including the men’s parents, friends, reporters, human rights activists, and concerned citizens, have been working as hard as they can over the last year to bring the case to the attention of the wider Russian public, force prosecutors to investigate the allegations of torture by FSB officers, and otherwise prove that, as seems to be the case, the FSB conjured the entire tale of the “terrorist community” from whole cloth and then handpicked a dozen or so completely innocent young men to be the fallguys, trying to torture and pummel them into admitting their “guilt” although they were guilty of no crime at all.

You would think the “Russia-obsessed” corporate media would jump on a story like this, but except for one article in the New Yorker, the western corporate media have utterly ignored the story of the Network “terrorists,” despite the efforts of actual alternative media like openDemocracyRussia (oDR) and my own blog, the Russian Reader, to write about it any chance we can and translate Russian coverage of the case, as published in such as liberal, leftist and civil rights media outlets as Mediazona, OVD Info, and Novaya Gazeta.

The campaign to save the Network boys scored a minor victory the other day during a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, when several members of the council brought up the case and a similar case no less shocking, the New Greatness case, and forced President Putin to talk about them.

A KGB-FSB officer to the core, Putin pretended not to have heard of the cases, which both pivot on allegations of extreme entrapment, torture, and fabrication by other KGB-FSB officers.

Putin hemmed and hawed, lied and prevaricated, feigned that he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, etc., but he did promise to look into the cases and get to the bottom of them.

It’s entirely possible he won’t do that, but it’s just as possible he will make the cases quietly go away to avoid embarrasment.

Who knows.

What I do know, though, is that western mainstream and alternative media, all of them “obsessed” with Putin (but not Russia) in their own way, have shown no interest in this story and thousands of other similar and dissimilar but no less fascinating stories from the real Russia inhabited by most Russians.

There was a slight uptick in their interest in grassroots Russia during the 2011–2012 fair elections protests, but since that movement was roundly defeated, western press coverage has been firmly refocused on the beloved hated figure of the supreme leader, thus once again denying nearly all the other 143 million Russians of agency, their own opinions, and their own lives.

If you’re interested in the Network case and related stories, please check out the coverage on oDR and the Russian Reader. Outside of Russia, practically speaking, there has been no coverage of the case anywhere else, and most things you read on international anarchist and antifascist websites are reprints of the stories we have translated and published.

So, let’s put this canard about the media’s Russia obsession to rest, okay? It’s deeply offensive to ordinary smart Russians, whose numbers are much greater than you would be led to think by the mostly lazy coverage of the country in the western press, and just as offensive to the handful of non-Russians who care deeply about what goes on here. {TRR}

P.S. You can support the Network suspects and their families concretely by donating to a solidarity campaign organized by comrades in London on their behalf. Your support will help to offset their legal costs, organizing humanitarian support for the arrested and offering support to their relatives. The resources gathered have so far been distributed according to the financial circumstances of the respective families and the needs of the arrested. Further financial support is being distributed according to the choices made by those arrested throughout the investigation.

Cartoon courtesy of JA and Union Thugs 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

DSCN1726Goodbye to all that. Exchange rates for the US dollar and the euro, as displayed electronically on the door of Zauber Bank, Ligovsky Prospect, September 19, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Putin Signs Law Banning Outdoor Currency Exchange Rate Electronic Display Boards
Delovoi Peterburg
December 18, 2018

President Putin has signed a law banning outdoor foreign currency exchange rate electronic display boards. The document was published on the Legal Information Website on Tuesday, December 18.

The document amends the law on foreign currency regulation. The Russian Central Bank now has the right to regulate how commercial banks post information about foreign currency exchange rates.

In Febrary 2018, the Central Bank proposed banning foreign currency exchange rate electronic display boards outside the premises of banks. The regulator explained the idea was prompted by the need to combat illegal exchange offices.

“As practice shows, information about foreign currency exchange rates is most often displayed outdoors by so-called illegal currency exchange points, which are camouflaged as limited service branches of authorized banks,” the Central Bank’s press service explained.

In December, a law bill that would grant the regulator the right to establish requirements for display of such information was adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council.

The Central Bank’s draft instructions explain that information about foreign currecy exchange rates can be placed only within the premises of an authorized bank and in such a way that the information is visible only inside the facility itself.

Translated by the Russian Reader