Russian Truckers to Launch Nationwide Strike on March 27 Rosbalt
March 13, 2017
On March 27, truckers will launch an indefinite strike against road tolls for cargo trucks on federal highways and the Plato toll payment system in general, Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), announced at a press conference. According to Bazhutin, the protest’s objective is to force the government to revise the regulations for road freight transportation.
“We want to stop the flow of goods as much as possible. Maybe this will be painful for ordinary folks, but we have no other choice. We are supported by 80% of the carriers in Russia. In the big cities, we will be organizing convoys along the roadsides, and we also have rallies planned. Our goal is to sit down at the negotiating table,” said Bazhutin.
He noted that if the authorities do not react to the strike, the strikers will call for the government to resign.
“We have several issues. The main issue is the Plato system. We don’t agree with it, and carriers have been sabotaging it. The government still hasn’t explained to us what we’re paying for, the kind of damage we’re doing to the roads, allegedly. They haven’t shown us any figures,” explained Bazhutin.
The OPR’s chair added that carriers were also worried about technical errors in the weight-and-size scales at the entrances to highways, as well as the work schedules of drivers.
“When a truck drives through the electronic detector, the machine might output the wrong data. There have already been such incidents. Drivers have run through these scales, delivered their cargo, unloaded, and gone home, only to get a fine in the mail of 150,000 rubles [approx. 2,400 euros] and higher a while later. This is really painful for carriers. The work schedule has to be based on Russian realities. They are imposing a European system that doesn’t suit us,” Bazhutin underscored.
According to Bazhutin, strike organizers are currently informing notifying carriers in the regions and getting permissions for protest actions from local authorities.
“Most likely, closer to April 15 there will be a rally. We’ve chosen the date because it’s when the rates go up. I think the strike will last a month, at least. If we stop work for a day, the flow of goods will not stop, except for perishables. It’s a long process, and it will develop as it goes along,” said the OPR chair.
Protesting Truckers Block Western High-Speed Diameter Highway in Petersburg Delovoi Peterburg
January 5, 2017
Truckers protesting against tolls for traveling on the Western High-Speed Diameter (ZSD) blocked the entrances to the tollway. Our correspondent reported from the scene that the protest lasted about an hour, and the protesters blocked five lanes.
A truck, a GAZelle van, three cars, and approximately ten people were involved in the protest. They rammed the barriers at the entrance to the tollway with their vehicles and blocked traffic. A small traffic jam formed at the entrance during the protest. ZSD staff reacted charitably to the incident, avoiding provoking the truckers. Traffic police who arrived at the scene wrote up the incident as a traffic accident—as a collision with the barriers. No police were involved in the protest, and no arrests were made.*
“Basically, the protest is not far from our focus on transportation, on the Plato tolls system, because the site of the protest is another toll road. Since we cannot block federal highways, we can quite legally come to a stop at the toll booths,” said Bazhutin in an interview with Business FM.
The ZSD’s central section opened in the wee hours of December 3. A day earlier, on December 2, President Vladimir Putin inspected the highway. The highway is nearly 47 kilometers long. The toll for travel on various sections of the highway ranges from 45 to 300 rubles for different types of vehicles. If the annual income of the operator, Northern Capital Highway, falls below 9.6 billion rubles, the city will offset the investor’s losses. Moreover, the concession agreement, signed by the operator and the city, predicts that collected tolls will not reach this level until 2019.
* UPDATE. OVD Info reports that one protester, Alexander Makarov, was arrested at the scene, according to his attorney Dinar Idrisov. Makarov was initially charged with a misdemeanor under Article 20.19 (blocking transportation routes) of the Administrative Offense Code. Later, he was additionally charged with disobeying the lawful demands of police officers (Article 19.3). The second charge made it possible for police to keep Makarov in custody overnight before his court hearing.
Victoria Lomasko Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki: Grassroots Protests in Russia, 2015–2016
In late February 2015, politician Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, was gunned down near the Kremlin.
Grassroots activists immediately set up a people’s memorial, made up of bouquets, photos, drawings, and candles, at the scene of the crime, on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. For over a year, they have been taking shifts guarding the memorial from members of various nationalist movements and bridge maintenance workers, who routinely haul away the flowers and photos as if they were trash.
“The assaults on the memorial occur like pogroms in a Jewish shtetl: it’s the luck of the draw,” these two people on vigil at the memorial told me. “They pick a time when the people on duty have let down their guard, like three or four in the morning.”
Headed by opposition leaders and attended by thousands of people, the 2012 rallies and marches for fair elections and a “Russia without Putin!” ended with the show trials of 2013 and 2014 against opposition leaders (Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov) and rank-and-file protesters (the so-called prisoners of May 6).
In 2015 and 2016, the Marches of the Millions have given way to small-scale rallies and protests. People far removed from politics have tried to defend their own concrete rights.
I made these drawings at a rally in defense of the Dynasty Foundation. An NGO founded to support scientific research and science education in Russia, it had been declared a “foreign agent” by the Justice Ministry.
In June 2015, residents of Moscow’s Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District came together to stop construction of a church in their local park, Torfyanka. The building had been planned as part of the Russian Orthodox Church’s 200 Churches Program.
Residents set up a tent camp in the park and stood watch in shifts to keep construction equipment from entering the site. They also filed a lawsuit, asking the court to declare the public impact hearing on the construction project null and void. The hearing had been held without their involvement. Continue reading “Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki”→
“They Have Really Gone After Us” After returning to Krasnodar Territory, participants of tractor convoy feel the heat from the very people against whom they complained
Anna Bessarabova Novaya Gazeta
August 28, 2016
The farmers were threatened during the convoy. We will stage a second Novocherkassk massacre for you and dice you like cattle in a slaughterhouse, they were told by security officers, who after the protest was dispersed have been zealously carrying out checks of their homes and farms.
Around thirty FSB officers raided Nikolai Borodin’s farm in the village of Kazanskaya, which they turned upside down. The tax inspectorate has been looking into property owned by the relatives of protest leader Alexei Volchenko. Other men have been interrogated by the prosecutor’s office. Nina Karpenko escorted her driver Seryozha Gerasimenko, a young fellow with three small children, to the detention center. He has been jailed for three days. The other men were also issued misdemeanor charge sheets: the authorities even went to the trouble of delivering the documents to their homes. The hearings took place on the weekend (Saturday) in the Kavkazsky District. Sergei Gorbachev was jailed for five days, Slava Petrovsky, for four days, Andrei Penzin and Semyon Smykov, for three. The rest of the protesters are waiting their turn.
“Nearly everyone in the villages has been paid visits by prosecutors and police,” farmer Ludmila Kushnaryova told Novaya Gazeta. No one knows what they are looking for. Or what the charges will be, either. The pressure has not stopped.”
“I cannot believe this is happening to us, in our country. We had no idea it would be so frightening,” said Nina Karpenko. “They have really gone after us. The deputy chief of the district traffic police escorted my tractor drivers and me to the hearings. He followed us for 250 kilometers. Whatever for? There were two people working in the courthouse on Saturday: the judge and the chairman. Didn’t they have anything else to do?”
Nikolai Maslov and Oleg Petrov, two convoy participants jailed for ten days, have been transferred to Novocherkassk.
“Dad called early this morning. He said everything was alright. But who knows. Maybe he just didn’t want to scare us?” said Igor Maslov, worried about his father. “We still haven’t found lawyers for them. How much do you think they’ll gouge us?”
Alexei Volchenko’s colleagues and friends have been looking for him. He has not been answering calls to any of his phones. He is not to be found in his home village. He has disappeared. The last thing the farmers heard was that Volchenko had been fined in Rostov Region. He made it back to Kuban, where he was detained again and sentenced to ten days in jail in Ust-Labinsk. The authorities are now, allegedly, preparing to charge him with extremism.
The Russian government, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Russian Investigative Committee have been pretending nothing is happening in Kuban. The official TV channels have been airing election campaign spots about the ruling party’s ability to listen to people, but they have not aired any stories about the events in Krasnodar Territory. They have maintained their silence for a week.
Alexander Popkov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, Boris Titov, federal commissioner for the rights of entrepreneurs, former Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, and Russian Federal Public Chamber chair Georgy Fyodorov have promised to help the participants of the tractor convoy.
“Obviously, the farmers have committed no offenses, and the wild imitation of law enforcement involving riot police and arrests for a ‘rally’ in a cafe are aimed at suppressing a peaceful and reasonable protest campaign,” said lawyer Alexander Popkov. “The first thing we are going to do is file appeals, and then we are going to see whether there is any point in beating our heads against the courts in Russia or whether we should immediately file a class-action complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”
“I have been in contact with the farmers, their wives, and their children. They are drafting an appeal, and next week we plan to hold a big press conference in Moscow,” Ivan Starikov informed Novaya Gazeta. “Their problem needs to be solved systemically. People’s land shares are being confiscated, and there are around 300,000 victims of this practice nationwide.”
According to Valentin Pyshkin, attorney for convoy participants Nikolai Maslov, Oleg Petrov, and Sergei Vladimirov, the farmers have filed an appealed against the court decisions that sentenced them to ten days in jail.
“But we won’t get an answer earlier than Monday,” the lawyer explained. “On August 26, I was not admitted to the Novocherkassk detention center and allowed to talk with my clients, because, you see, according to their internal regulations, prisoners are entitled to representation by a lawyer only from two to four in the afternoon. It is an odd rule. But at four o’clock I had a court hearing in Aksai. Rustam Mallamagomedov from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) was on trial. On August 24, he had gone to the police station on his own to find out what had happened to the detainees, and the police didn’t let him back out of the station.”
Truckers Ready to Fight for Farmers
Andrei Bazhutin, chair, Russian Association of Carriers (OPR):
“We arrived from Petersburg to Moscow, where we were getting ready for a car convoy through Siberia. We learned about the arrest of the tractor convoy on the morning of August 23 and changed our plans. We went to support the tractor drivers. We were stopped by police for eight hours on the Moscow Ring Road, and eight hours in Voronezh Region. Along the way, we were written up for violating Article 20.2 of the Misdemeanors Code [“Violation of the established rules for organizing or holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket” — Novaya Gazeta], but they did not stop us from traveling further.
“By the time we got to Rostov, two of our activists [who had been with the tractor convoy from the beginning — Novaya Gazeta] had been sentenced to ten days in jail, while another two had been fined 10,000 rubles. Now we are here in Rostov: we have four big rigs and some cars. We are working with the lawyers and human rights activists and trying to help the guys out. We think it is necessary to gather journalists and advance on Krasnodar Territory to draw attention to these court hearings. Center ‘E’ [the Interior Ministry’s Center for Extremism Prevention — TRR] has intimidated everyone here.
Protesting Truckers Found Grassroots Association as Alternative to Trade Unions
Elizaveta Antonova RBC
April 30, 2016
Russian truckers, who have been protesting against the Plato system of mileage tolls for the past six months, have founded the Association of Russian Carriers [Ob’edinenie perevozchikov Rossii, or OPR]. The grassroots organization will defend the interests of truck drivers and fight to have Plato abolished.
On Saturday, the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), established by protesting long-haul truckers, held its founding congress at the Lenin State Farm in suburban Moscow.
Shortly before the congress opened, law enforcement stopped letting delegates park their cars in the farm’s parking lot. When RBC asked what the grounds were for not letting the cars into the parking lots, a traffic policeman said he was concerned for the safety of “people strolling and children.”
According to the event’s organizers, the congress brought together around three hundred drivers from thirty-one regions. Delegates from at least forty-three regions of the country have joined the OPR.
Many of the regional drivers who came to the congress expressed a desire to speak their minds. Most of them said establishing an organization to defend their interests and uniting “into a might fist” had been long overdue.
“Plato was the trigger. It provoked us, but it had long been time to unite. You can break twigs individually, but that won’t work on a broom,” said one of the drivers who spoke at the congress.
“The number of people living below the poverty line has been increasing. We live in poverty in the most resource-rich country in the world while the people in power stuff their pockets with money,” complained Maria Pazukhina of Murmansk. “The transport sector is the economy’s circulatory system. The welfare of the entire country depends on it.”
Congress delegates adopted a charter for the grassroots organization and chose a chair, Petersburg truck driver Andrei Bazhutin, a leader of the protest camp in Khimki and a coordinator of the movement against the Plato toll system.
The OPR’s main objectives are ensuring the development and prosperity of the road haulage business, generating favorable work conditions for its members, defending their rights, and representing the common interests of members in governmental, non-governmental, and international institutions.
The extant professional drivers’ associations did not solve the real problems of truckers, Bazhutin told RBC as he explained the idea of founding their own grassroots organization.
According to another OPR organizer, Rustam Mallamagomedov, the drivers had decided to found a grassroots organization because many of the truckers were self-employed and a trade union did not suit them.
No one is going to march on Moscow with pitchforks: the OPR will act within the law, said Bazhutin. In particular, according to him, the association of carriers will be looking for legal inconsistencies in the Plato system.
The OPR will be guided by principles of independence from political parties, and decisions will be taken collectively. It will establish a system for coordinating with the authorities and providing legal aid to carriers. The truckers also plan to build a common transport and logistics system.
After the congress, the founders of the grassroots organization will submit registration papers.
The truckers applied with the Moscow mayor’s office to hold a rally of up to a thousand people on May 1, but were turned down all three times, Bazhutin told RBC.
Moscow authorities rejected the first application on the grounds it had been submitted too early. The second and third times, the mayor’s office explained its rejection of the appliccation by the fact that many events had already been scheduled for May 1 in Moscow as it was. The truckers were supported by the Presidential Council for Human Rights. Its chair, Mikhail Fedotov, asked Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin not to turn down the truckers’ application to hold a rally. The support of the Human Rights Council, however, did not succeed in helping the drivers get permission from the authorities.
The truckers are now planning to join one of the trade unions at the May Day march, Mallamagomedov noted. He refused to specify whom the big rig drivers would be joining so the authorities could not prevent them from doing so.
What the Truckers Have Achieved
The Plato toll collection system for trucks over twelve tons driving on federal highways was launched on November 15, 2015. Its introduction provoked numerous protests by truck drivers in various regions of the country, including Moscow Region.
Since the protests kicked off, drivers have succeeded in winning a number of concessions from the authorities. In particular, the president signed a decree in December that considerably reduced fines for non-payment of truck tolls on federal highways. The fine for the first violation is now 5,000 rubles [approx. 66 euros]; for repeat violations, 10,000 rubles. Previously, the fines for non-payment of road tolls were 450,000 rubles for the first violation, and a million rubles for repeat violations [approx. 6,000 euros and 13,000 euros, respectively].
In February, the government extended the discounted rate for truck travel in the Plato system. It was assumed that from March 1, 2016, to December 31, 2018, the rate would be 3.06 rubles a kilometer, but later it was decided to extend the discounted rate, which is currently 1.53 rubles a kilometer. The discounted rate will be valid until a special decision is made. In addition, the rate will not be indexed to the rate of inflation until July 1, 2017.
In April, the government approved the draft law “On Amendments to the Tax Code,” which, if enacted, would deduct the sum of payments already made for heavy freight haulers registered in the Platon system from the transport tax paid by their owners. The government will soon send the bill down to the State Duma.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks toVictoria Lomaskofor the heads-up. Photo courtesy of anatrrra. Please read my numerous previous posts on the months-long protests by Russian truckers.