Trucker Andrei Bazhutin: “We Want to Change the System”

OPR Leader Andrei Bazhutin Picketing in Yoshkar-Ola: “Until 2015, I Also Sat and Watched TV”
Dmitry Lyubimov
7X7
August 1, 2017

The Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) picketed Nikonov Square in Yoshkar-Ola on July 31. The picket was part of a cross-country road rally, led by OPR chair and trucker Andrei Bazhutin. On June 14, he announced his candidacy for the Russian presidency. A 7X7 correspondent attended the picket.

Several picketers arrived on Nikonov Square at 7 p.m., bearing placards. Local OPR members held banners that were more informational, while road rally participants held up smaller banners sporting slogans such as “Plato Won’t Save the Roads, It’s Only for Oligarchs,” and “Stop Lying, Stealing, and Fighting Wars.”

Picketer bearing a t-shirt that reads, “Popular Movement for Housing. Together We’ll Take Back Our Abode. #ForHousing. ndza.ru.”

Several members of the Popular Movement for Housing (NDZA) joined the road rally. Andrei Svistunov, civic activist and founder of an independent trade union, came out to support the truckers with colleagues and friends from the local Alexei Navalny campaign headquarters.

“We have never been in government, and we have no ties with any oligarchs. We’re ordinary people,” said Andrei Bazhutin. “We want to change the system. We don’t have rose-tinted glasses. We realize our road is a hard road. We’ll see what obstacles they throw in our path. Until 2015, I also sat and watched TV. I went on trucking runs and watched TV. Nowadays, I don’t watch it at all. I trust the internet, but only partly. Here we are, outside, among people. Everywhere the doors have been slammed shut in our face. Our association has tried to make contact with the government and the president’s staff. The people in our association are grown men, and they’ve been through their share of hot spots. We own our own big rigs. People know who we are, and that’s a good thing.”

Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (ORP)

The road rally has taken place in an abbreviated form. Previously, big rigs were involved in it, but now the convoy consists of only two cars and a minibus. Residents of Murmansk, Vologda, Tver, Moscow, and St. Petersburg have been involved in the rally. It has been paid for by participants themselves and private donors. During their meetings with the people in the towns where they stop, the truckers talk about different problems, including housing and hoodwinked investors in cooperative residential buildings.

“Initially, the Communists actively supported us. I met with Vladimir Rodin and Valery Rashkin, CPRF MPs in the State Duma. But they probably will not keep supporting us in the future, since we talk about the fact that Russia’s current party-based political system is rotten to the core. We are categorically opposed to the structure that has now been established in Russia. We believe the future lies with social movements, who must nominate grassroots candidates. That is probably the most positive know-how from the late-period Soviet Union that we can borrow. Power must rotate,” argues Bazhutin.

According to Bazhutin, the interests of the OPR and Alexei Navalny intersect, and the truckers are involved in his protest rallies. At pickets in Moscow, the drivers pasted placards with images of rubber duckies on their trucks. (The rubber ducky is a symbol of the “Don’t Call Him Dimon” campaign, whose supporters demand that authorities respond to the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s video exposé of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.)

Anti-Corruption Foundation, Don’t Call Him Dimon: Palaces, Yachts, and Vineyards—Dmitry Medvedev’s Secret Empire. YouTube video, with subtitles in English. Posted March 2, 2017, by Alexei Navalny

“2015 was the year of our camp in Khimki: our entire movement was launched there. Navalny filed a petition in the Commercial Court to reveal the terms of the public-private partnership agreement [establishing the Plato road tolls system], and many of our guys attended the hearing. Navalny wanted to visit our camp. But our goal was to keep the camp up and running, and if Navalny had shown up, we didn’t know whether it would have a positive or negative impact. So we turned him down. It led to a slight misunderstanding. Nowadays, we don’t say that Navalny has been going about things the wrong way. We see circumstances slightly differently. This concerns, for example, a united candidate from the opposition. He might not make it to the election. Those comrades over there [Bazhutin points to the law enforcement officers keeping an eye on the picket] might not allow it. If there is no such candidate, then what is left? We need candidates representing movements and grassroots organizations. Let ordinary folk nominate their own candidates. We shall see. Let them get themselves registered, and then we’ll decide whom to support,” said Bazhutin.

The truckers of the OPR have been on an indefinite strike since March 27. They have made six demands, including sacking the current government and expressing no confidence in the Russian president, to abolishing the Plato road tolls system and recalculating the excise tax on fuel.

The next stop on OPR’s road rally is Nizhny Novgorod.

All photos by Anna Pyatak and courtesy of 7X7. See the rest of her photos from the picket by clicking on the link to the original article, above. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Andrei Bazhutin: “More than a Million Trucks Have Stopped Running Nationwide”

Andrei Bazhutin: “More than a Million Trucks Have Stopped Running Nationwide”
Nina Petlyanova
Novaya Gazeta
April 7, 2017

The nationwide strike by Russian truckers continues. The regime’s main weapon against the strikers has been strong-arm police tactics.

Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) and thus the duly elected leader of the long-haul truckers opposed to the Plato road tolls payment system, was subject to the harshest crackdown. On March 27, he was put under arrest for 14 days. He spent five of them in a jail before he was released, but during that time the authorities nearly removed his four children from their home and almost caused his pregnant wife to have a miscarriage. But none of this has forced Bazhutin and his colleagues to give up their fight.

Is 14 days of arrest a fair move in your circumstances? What were you being punished for?

The objective is clear. This was not done at the behest of the traffic police, the police or the other security services. It was a deliberate action on the part of the regime to isolate me. The only thing was that the judge got carried away when she sentenced me to 14 days of arrest. It was cruel and unusual punishment. I didn’t do such a terrible thing to warrant isolating me for 14 days.

What did you do? Had you violated any laws?

All three cases that made it to court were about revoking my driving license. Two of the cases were heard by Judge Marina Afanasieva, who ordered me put under arrest. But in two of the three cases I wasn’t even behind the wheel. It was recorded on video: there is evidence. However, despite that, my license was revoked.

When did you find out you’d been driving with a revoked license?

On March 27, when I was detained. I knew the accusations had been made. We were challenging them, and I was certain we’d challenge them successfully. But what happened, happened. Yet the traffic cops told me I coudn’t have been unaware of driving with a revoked license. Two days before I was detained, however, I drove to Moscow and back in my own car, and no one stopped me. Am so I insane that I would drive a thousand kilometers to another city and back knowing my license had been revoked?

When I was detained, I was driving my son back from practice. He was wearing his wet uniform. We were literally a hundred meters from the house. The 25th Police Precinct, where I was eventually taken, is located in the courtyard of my building. I asked the traffic cop either get behind the wheel himself or let me drive my son to the house, but he categorically refused. Moreover, he sent a message to children’s protective services, after which they decided to take the children into their custody.

What did you do when you found out about this?

While I still had a mobile phone, I telephoned my eldest son, and he ran home. But children’s protective services explained that he was not a guardian and could not stay with the children. Right at that moment, I had been hauled to the 25th Police Precinct. The people from children’s protective services and my son entered our apartment, and they inspected everything, including the refrigerator. Then Artyom called his mom, my wife, and told her everything. She left the hospital, where she had been hospitalized to avoid a miscarriage. [Natalya Bazhutina is seven months pregnant—Novaya Gazeta.] She came home and told the children’s protective services officials that her eldest son and his grandmother were in charge of the children in her absence. But they told her they needed a power of attorney. Natalya hurried to a notary’s office, where she was told the power of attorney could have been made out in the presence of the children’s protective services employees. But they hadn’t told a pregnant woman this. On the other hand, they warned her that if my eldest son or his grandmother took the children outside for a walk, the children would be immediately removed, since they had no legal proof of guardianship.

Did you know what was happening at home when you were in court and in jail?

Not for the first two days. I was isolated. Then someone gave me a SIM card and I called home. By that time, our guys from the OPR were standing constant watch in the courtyard and not letting any outsiders get into the apartment, because there was constant surveillance in the courtyard. A car with some strange young people in it was cruising there round the clock. They vanished only after I had been under arrest for four days.

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Andre Bazhutin (center) and comrades. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

This was all done to intimidate you?

You can’t intimidate me with such methods. Although recently, who hasn’t been knocking on my door: the police, the tax inspectors, the prosecutors, the FSB. Space aliens haven’t come knocking yet.

Russian officials don’t understand they can’t intimidate us with such actions: I mean truckers in general. These are guys who are used to doing everything themselves. They’ve spent a million nights alone in the woods, in parking lots, on the side of the road. They’ve fixed their own trucks, rustled up food, and defended themselves. They are used to sticking up for themselves. You can’t derail them. That stuff doesn’t work on them.

Do they listen to you?

They do, but not the way they should. We have heard that people in power have been having nervous breakdowns due to us, due to this situation. But that’s not what we want. We aren’t professional protesters. We want to sit down at the negotiating table and solve our problems. What’s happening in the industry is abnormal. More and more truckers are involved in the strike. Some might not park their rigs, but they are riding empty: they’re not hauling cargo. They don’t park on the roadsides, they aren’t involved in our protest rallies directly, but they support us.

Your arrest and the story with your children have not altered your plans?

No way. Of course, I was worried about the children when I wasn’t sure whether the authorities would leave them at home or not. I was worried about my wife and her condition. But I was immediately bombarded with text messages from all over the country. People were willing to help. They were willing to take my family into hiding. I will be cautious in the future. But we’re not going to stop what we’re doing until we achieve something.

What is the mood of the truckers at the moment? How long do they want to strike? How far are they willing to go with their protest?

We won’t end the strike until the authorities make a decision. Whereas at the beginning of the protest, many colleagues said we wouldn’t hold out for more than a week, now everyone is unanimous that we’re holding out till the end.

The main objective is negotiations with Transport Minister Sokolov and Prime Minister Medvedev, who, I imagine, don’t have a clue about our problems. We want them at least to try and figure them out.

In addition, all members of the trucking community should sit down at the negotiating table, even those who don’t share our point of view, because the problem is vast, this is a real sector of the economy, and everyone’s opinions have to to be considered.

Until such a meeting takes place, the strike will continue. We will stay on the road until there is a real solution.

On April 5, Rustam Mallamagomedov, leader of the Dagestani truckers, was detained in Moscow. Have you figure out what happened? How are you going to react?

This is lawlessness. For the longest time, we couldn’t understand who the people who detained Rustam were. Were they from the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department or the FSB? We still don’t know what their beef with Rustam is. But we sent in the lawyers and human rights activists immediately. It worked, and Rustam is now free. We’re going to Makhachkala together. On April 7, truckers from Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkariya, and Chechnya will be meeting there with reporters. On the way back to Moscow, we’ll be holding similar meetings in Ossetia, Kransodar, and Rostov-on-Don, because there is a deficit of information in the media about the strike.

Why has Dagestan become the hottest spot?

In Dagestan, 90% of the drivers are private carriers. The republic is small, and so the strike is in everyone’s face. We have strikers spread across the entire country, but Russia is so vast that it’s not so noticeable, although a huge number of people are on strike. We’re going to summarize the numbers by April 10. We want to count the number of regions in which there are protest camps, and the number of people in these camps, as well as where the camps are, and where they were until the police dispersed them.

We will try and give an overall picture for every city in Russia. It’s complicated. In Petersburg alone, there are more than 200 parking lots, and we have to make the rounds of all of them. There are also people not involved openly in the protest, but who support it and have parked their trucks. We have to take them into account, too. Currently, not even the traffic cops and the police have those stats. But I can say for sure that at least half of all truckers have now stopped working as of today. In terms of numbers, that’s more than a million trucks.

Translated by the Russian Reader  

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Andrei Bazhutin. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

 

Russian Truckers to Strike Nationwide on March 27

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.

[…]

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Real Russia Today

Truckers Block New Tollway in Petersburg

Protesting Truckers Block Western High-Speed Diameter Highway in Petersburg
Delovoi Peterburg
January 5, 2017

Car sporting anti-Plato road tolls payment system sticker blocks entrance to Western High-Speed Diameter in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Anton Vaganov/Delovoi Peterburg

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.*

One of the protest’s organizers, Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR), explained that the truckers’ main demand was to make travel on the highway free, despite the fact it was built as a public-private partnership.

“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.

Translated by the Russian Reader. See my previous posts on the ZSD’s horrific visual impact on the Petersburg cityscape.

* 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

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.

Slogan on man’s t-shirt: “Navalny didn’t steal the timber.” May 24, 2016

“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.”

Woman: “People will take to the barricades only when food runs out in the stores.” Slogan on her shirt: “The ‘Russian world’ has no use for science and education.’” Rally in defense of science and education, June 6, 2015

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.

“Today, they killed Nemtsov. Tomorrow, they’ll kill a nationalist leader.” Rally in defense of science and education

Torfyanka

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.

“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015
“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015

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”

Regime Cracks Down on Protesting Krasnodar Farmers

“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 after their tractor convoy was dispersed. They have been sentenced to three to ten days in jail. Not a single independent human rights activist came to their court hearings in the village of Kazanskaya. Photo courtesy of Anna Artemieva/Novaya Gazeta

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.

“We have also contacted the miners on hunger strike in Gukov and agreed to support each other. Our demands will be voiced at their next picket too.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Read my previous postings about the protest by Krasnodar farmers and the regime’s crackdown against it.

“Uniting into a Mighty Fist”: Protesting Russian Truckers Found Alternative Association

"Stop Plato! No to Plato!"
“Stop Plato! No to Plato!”

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 to Victoria Lomasko for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of anatrrra. Please read my numerous previous posts on the months-long protests by Russian truckers.