“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.”
Delovoi Peterburg, a business daily, has just published its ranking of Petersburg’s alleged ruble billionaires.
It is no surprise that Putin’s cronies Gennady Timchenko (I thought he was a Finnish national?) and Arkady Rotenberg topped the list of 304 capitalists, with alleged net worths of 801.5 billion rubles and 294 billion rubles, respectively. (That is approximately 11.8 billion euros and 4.3 billion euros, respectively.)
There are lots of other pals of Putin and Medvedev in the top fifty, but I was disappointed to see the personal fortunes of my own favorite Russian super villain, former head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, had faded a bit in the past year. He has dropped to the number twenty-six spot in the ranking, claiming a net worth of a mere 37.07 billion rubles, which means that in Old Europe, where Yakunin is now dispensing Russian softpowerish wisdom to decision-makers and academics via his newly opened Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, in Berlin, he would be a regular old euro millionaire, with a measly net worth of 548 million euros.
Another thing that struck me when I surveyed the list was the signal lack of women among the city’s ruble billionaires. Women appear on the list only towards the very bottom, which means they are not really billionaires, but dollar or euro millionaires, at most, and maybe not even that. And there are no more than ten such women in a list of 304 names.
So, the Delovoi Peterburg ranking is not only more evidence of Russia’s extreme wealth inequality—which is a matter of elite practice, if not of explicit government policy—but of the fact that this extreme wealth inequality has an even more extreme gender bias.
Even if Putin crony and Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin had named his newish Berlin think tank the “Vladimir Putin Institute for Peace and Freedom,” this would have had no effect, I am afraid, on all the decision-makers and academics who are prepared to rush into Yakunin’s embrace at the drop of a hat, forgiven, as it were, by the squirrelier name he has has chosen, Dialogue of Civilizations.
Yesterday and today, DOC Berlin has been holding a bang-up conference, dealing, like all conferences these days, with the centenary of the October Revolution.
Georgy [sic] Derluguian, Professor of Social Research and Public Policy, New York University Abu Dhabi
Michael Ellman, Professor Emeritus, Amsterdam University
Domenico Nuti, Professor of Comparative Economic Systems, University of Rome “La Sapienza”
Vladimir Popov, Professor, DOC RI Research Director and a Principal Researcher in Central Economics and Mathematics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Beverly J. Silver, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Director of the Arrighi Center for Global Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
Andres Solimano, International Center for Globalization and Development
Vladislav Zubok, Professor, Department of International History,London School of Economics, UK
Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor,Department of Sociology, University of California-Los Angeles, USA
But they are there, holding forth on “revolution” on the Putinist dime, while Yakunin, who clearly loves these powwows (there are tons of videos from past DOC gatherings on YouTube and elsewhere in which this is appearent), and is eager to show he is running the show, laughs his silent “former KGB officer” laugh.
While you are at it, check out this rogues’ gallery of useful idiots. Even if you have only a few toes in the world of academia, as I do, you will immediately recognize several of the people serving Yakunin on his think thank’s “supervisory board” and “programme council.”
But what about the quality of the research supposedly underway at this so-called research institute? Here is a little sample, the abstract of a paper, downloadable for free, entitled “Church and politics: Russian prospects,” written by someone named Boris Filippov.
The paper is an attempt to make a brief overview of the Russian Orthodox Church’s state in the Post-Soviet Russia. Author notes, that the Church’s role in building civil society in Russia is potentially very considerable, since the Orthodox community’s ability to self-organize is rare for the post-Soviet Russia. He provides abundant empiric material illustrating Christian Orthodox community’s high capacities to contribute to building a prosperous society, for, as he shows, believers have gone much further on the way of consolidation than Russian society as a whole.
Is everyone who is speaking at today’s conference in Berlin and everyone who serves on Yakunin’s supervisory board and programme council kosher with obscurantist Russian Orthodox nationalism masquerading as scholarship? Do all of them know that “Russian Orthodoxy” (as interpreted by Patriarch Kirill and his intemperate followers) is now being used in Russia as an ideological battering ram to quash dissent and difference and reinforce Putin’s seemingly endless administration, as “Marxism-Leninism” was similarly used in the Soviet Union?
Do they know that their generous benefactor Vladimir Yakunin, in one of his other guises, wholeheartedly supports just this variety of aggressive Russian Orthodox nationalism?
The merging of political, diplomatic and religious interests has been on vivid display in Nice, where the Orthodox cathedral, St. Nicholas, came under the control of the Moscow Partriarchate in 2013.
To mark the completion of Moscow-funded renovation work in January, Russia’s ambassador in Paris, Aleksandr Orlov, joined the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, for a ceremony at the cathedral and hailed the refurbishment as “a message for the whole world: Russia is sacred and eternal!”
Then, in a festival of French-Russian amity at odds with France’s official policy since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the ambassador, Orthodox priests, officials from Moscow and French dignitaries gathered in June for a gala dinner in a luxury Nice hotel to celebrate the cathedral’s return to the fold of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Speaking at the dinner, Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime ally of Mr. Putin who is subject to United States, but not European, sanctions imposed after Russia seized Crimea, declared the cathedral a “corner of the Russian world,” a concept that Moscow used to justify its military intervention on behalf of Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine. Church property from the czarist era, Mr. Yakunin added, belongs to Russia “simply because this is our history.”
This entry has the title it does, not because I wanted an excuse to insert a recording by a beloved band of my salad days, which I did anway, but because when I draft editorials like this on Facebook, as I often do, I usually endure stony silence from my so-called friends and readers after I post them. It is not that they are usually so garrulous anyway, but I do know they read what I write, because they are capable of responding enthusiastically to other subjects.
Writ large, this stony silence is what has helped Vladimir Yakunin operate his Dialogue of Civilizations hootenanies (usually held annually in Rhodes until the recent upgrade and move to Berlin) under the radar for nearly fifteen years with almost no scrutiny from the western and Russian press and, apparently, no due diligence on the part of the hundreds and maybe thousands of non-Russian academics, politicians, experts, and other A-league movers and shakers who have attended and spoken at these events.
So can we assume, for example, that Georgi Derluguian, Anatol Lieven, Walter Mignolo, and Richard Sakwa (I am only picking out the names of scholars with whose work I am familiar) condone the Kremlin’s occupation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin’s downing of Flight MH17, the Kremlin’s repeat invasion and wholesale destruction of Chechnya, during the early day of Putin’s reign, and the Kremlin’s extreme crackdown on Russian dissenters of all shapes and sizes, from ordinary people who reposted the “wrong” things on social networks to well-known opposition politicians, journalists, and activsts shot down in cold blood for their vocal dissent, including Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, and Stanislav Markelov, a crackdown that has been intensifying with every passing year Putin has remained in power?
A resounding “yes!” would be refreshing to hear, but we will never get any response from the members of Vladimir Yakunin’s semi-clandestine fan club. It is their dirty little open secret, and only someone who is uncouth, someone unfamiliar with the ways of the world’s power brokers and their handmaidens and spear carriers, would even think about asking them to reveal it. TRR
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”→
“I’m Very Tired of the Sense of Insecurity”: How the Truckers’ Protest Has Gone Indefinite
Olga Rodionova paperpaper.ru
March 3, 2016
The nationwide strike by Russian truckers officially wrapped up on March 1, but Petersburg drivers have continued to maintain their makeshift protest camp outside the MEGA Dybenko shopping center [in the city’s far southeast]. They have declared their campaign against the new Plato mileage tolls system indefinite.
Nearly all of the drivers who have driven their trucks to MEGA Dybenko are individual entrepreneurs. After the innovations wrought by the Rotenbergs, business has become unprofitable for the truckers. Why have those who work for themselves decided to go on protesting instead of hauling freight? Olga Rodionova put together the following portfolio of photographs of truckers and their statements for paperpaper.ru.
“Have you seen the roads in this country? I have been paying taxes for many years, the roads have not got better, but now I have to pay even more? One wheel costs me 20,000 rubles [approx. 250 euros]. Have you seen how many wheels I have on my truck? If I pop a tire in a pothole, whom can I blame? Nobody! No one has ever got any compensation from the highway services or the government for breakdowns caused by the poor state of the roads. We just pay and pay. I have sometimes left at five in the morning to avoid traffic jams. While I picked up the load, got it unloaded, and then returned the container, it was already eleven in the evening. Sometimes there is no point going back, and I’m away from home for three days at a time. Many of our guys say there is no point in striking, that nothing will change, but I’m very tired of the sense of insecurity in all parts of life. It’s important to me to be here.”
“Where are the ruts deepest on multi-lane highways? In the left lanes! But we are obliged to drive in the right lanes. The roads in Russia are bad, because funds for road construction are embezzled and roads are not built to technical specss. But they put the blame on us, saying the trucks are to blame for everything. [Answers his telephone.] Hello. Yeah, we are doing a bit of striking. You come with Dima. He can climb around on the rigs.”
“Plato has only one office in Petersburg where I can get a mileage recorder installed, but they don’t have them in stock! Meaning I couldn’t use Plato even if I wanted to. The mileage recorders were doled out to the major companies, while we, the midsize companies and individual entrepreneurs, are being squeezed out. To be able to get onto the road and work without paying a fine, I have to travel hell knows where to a computer terminal on Fermskoye Highway [in the far northwest of the city] and waste time and money. But there is no guarantee the terminal won’t freeze or just won’t be working. There is no point in talking with the people who work there: they are clerks who don’t decide anything. It’s like trying to agree with a highway patrol inspector about changing the traffic rules.”
“Cargo haulage rates have not changed for seven or eight years. During that time, only the price of fuel and taxes have gone up. If you work it out, I pay threefold. First, I pay all my taxes. Then, due to them, I end up with less and less money. Finally, I pay again as a consumer at the stores: everything has become more expensive. The Plato system is not the whole matter here. They are just muscling out small business. Before, when there was no Plato, we never gave a it a second’s thought. We drove and drove. There was work, and thank God. I am fifty years old. Who is going to hire me? It is a long way to retirement, and I do not want to sit on my butt working as a watchman.”
“Before the crisis of 2007, I had three trucks. I had to sell all of them to pay the mortgage: I was afraid of winding up homeless. I myself am from Ufa. I came here with a load and stayed to support the protest. The wife chews me out, of course, saying I should come home already. But if everyone thinks it doesn’t concern them, then nothing is going to change.”
“I don’t expect anything good to happen. I would be thankful if they wouldn’t prevent me from working. The less the government worries about me, the better it is for me. It’s scary, of course. I’m 49. Where am I going to find a job?”
“I have an illegal fine against me in the database. I proved in court the fine was illegal, but it is still listed there. The highway patrol tried to keep me from getting here to the camp. I only broke through thanks to a truck driver who helped out. I got him up on the radio, and he covered me from the highway patrol. I have been behind the wheel my whole life. I was even born in a car, in my dad’s Pobeda. I pay taxes and duties. I don’t work under the table. I just want to work in peace.”
“I was involved in the first protest, too. I met some of the guys there, and some of them here. What do I want? The other guys have said it already. If things don’t work out, I will close my individual enterprise and register for unemployment. They have put so many obstacles in our way we cannot get out on the highway at all. There are no mileage recorders in stock, the Plato computer terminal doesn’t work, and if a trip isn’t registered on Plato, the fine is higher than the money you would make on the load. It is just a legal means of driving us from the market, you see? It’s not even a matter of extortion. We simply cannot work.”
“You know, my lawyer told me not to wag my tongue here especially.”
“Plato is not the end; it is only the beginning. People say we should raise rates or let the customers pay the tolls. But fuel has again gone up, and spare parts for trucks have gotten a lot more expensive. As a consumer, I suffer from this, too. The wife chews me out, of course. We have no money, the tank is empty. But as a man, I would feel ashamed towards the other guys, so that is why I am parked here. Or rather, that is why I live here. The wife says I should just live here then.”
Victoria Lomasko Chronicle of a Troubled Time The Khimki Truckers’ Camp Readies Itself for Nationwide Strike
Sergei Vladimirov, a coordinator at the Khimki truckers’ camp: “In the early days, we pushed everybody away and were suspicious of each other. We didn’t know each other yet.”
Andrei Bazhutin, another coordinator at the camp: “In the early days, chaos prevailed, but now the guys are like soldiers. We have figured out what ‘newsworthy’ means and how to give interviews, but the demand on us has been such it is like we’ve been doing this for several years.”
Over the past two and a half months, the truckers have also learned to hold rallies, organize alliances, and produce visual propaganda.
Truckers have been coming from other cities to see the camp firsthand. Two truckers from Kursk were impressed.
“In Russia, people always look up to the big cities. We’re going to tell our people back home, ‘Boys, the whole country is rising!’”
Russian truckers will hold a nationwide strike from February 20 to March 1.
The protesting truckers are convinced that toll roads for trucks are just the tip of the iceberg. The new tariff will disrupt the cargo transportation system as it now exists, leaving it to the monopolists.
Many drivers have first heard about the truckers’ protest and the fact they could join it from the Khimki activists. They rarely use the Internet and don’t know any reliable news websites, while the protest has not covered by TV news channels.
Those who have not visited the camp believe the truckers’ protest will peter out. But how can it be expanded if the truckers are unable to appear on TV regularly? The truckers have given us an example of how not to be afraid of speaking out against lawless decisions by the authorities. Don’t they deserve our help publicizing their cause?
Activists from the Khimki camp have held meetings in many cities at which they shared their self-organizational know-how.
“In the regions, they want to see truckers from Khimki, because they trust us,” say the activists.
Money is needed for additional organizing trips. If you are able to support this important cause, you can find the details of the activists’ bank account here.
Nadezhda, who is from the Vologda Region, used to work as a manager in the housing management system, but left “because the whole business is dishonest.” She owns two trucks. She has been at the camp since day one.
“I’m grateful to Plato for helping me meet such a variety of people here,” says Nadezhda.
Rustam Mallamagomedov became the interim head of the Union of Dagestan Truckers. Truckers’ unions are now being formed in many Russian regions.
Sergei, a trucker from Dagestan, told me this story in late January. I met him again the other at the Khimki camp. He was cheerless.
“My boss is selling the truck tomorrow. It’s become unprofitable. The Internet is awash with ads for trucks for sale.”
Sergei doesn’t know how he’ll survive. The country is in the midst of an economic crisis and there are no jobs to be had.
The camp gets visitors every day. Some folks bring the activists hot food, while others bring them diesel for their trucks. Still other people give lectures and stage improvised concerts. Khimki residents invite the protesters to their houses to take showers and wash their clothes. The majority of those who come to meet the truckers later become regular visitors.
How do you feel about the truckers’ protest? It would be interesting to know your opinion. If you support them, then how do you show your support? If you don’t support them, then why not? What would have to change for you to support them? And what could inspire you to travel to the Khimki camp and meet the truckers?
“What is Basil Saying? Where is Oversize Lyokha? And How is Platform Trailer Vadim?” Kommersant Explored How Truckers Are Convoying to the Moscow Ring Road to Protest
Alexander Chernykh and Katerina Shcherbakova
December 3, 2015 Kommersant
The protests by truckers that have taken place over the past three weeks because of the introduction of the Plato payment system are nearing their climax. On Thursday, drivers around the counters waited for President Putin to mention their problems and promise to get to the bottom of them in his annual Address to the Federal Assembly. When this did not happen, truckers begin forming the convoys that will attempt to travel to Moscow and block the Moscow Ring Road.
The Meeting Place Must Be Changed
The protesting truckers should have been in Moscow a few days ago, but the traffic police have been successfully countering them all week. Nationwide, traffic cops have been stop suspicious drivers at every post, checking their documents for several hours, looking for explosives or narcotics in their cargo, fining them for not having first-aid kits and fire extinguishers, and simply turning the most active of them around. This has seriously complicated coordination of the protests: several times, police have shown up right at secret meeting places. To learn the location of another such spot, we had to spend two nights in an online dialogue to convince suspicious drivers that we were reliable. Ultimately, our source did send us a telephone number, a contact name, and the address of a small roadside cafe around 200 kilometers from Moscow. We were given strict instructions to not mention the exact location at all over the phone.
When we got there, it turned there was no more need for conspiracy: the drivers had been been made by the police the day before.
“They didn’t even hide,” smiling in amazement, says Viktor, a young trucker from Novgorod the Great. “I had thought I would never notice if I were being tailed. This business is not my thing. But in this case it is all very simple. That passenger vehicle over there arrived after us and has been sitting next to the cafe for a suspiciously long time. Then a Gazelle [light truck or van] with an antenna on its roof parked next to it.”
When the bored drivers decided to go for a ride in a passenger car, the suspicious automobile immediately pulled out behind them, tailed them for the duration of the trip, and then parked in the exact same place. After this, some of the drivers decided to take their trucks to another stop and drove toward Moscow, but within several kilometers they were all stopped by traffic cops, who asked where the convoy of trucks was headed.
“The guys thought they could outfox them. They said they were really going to Petersburg and were just looking the U-turn on the highways,” recounts one of the drivers who has stayed behind. “But the cops told them they would escort them to the regional border. So they traveled with a motorcade.”
A roadside cafe chockablock with truckers is an ordinary sight for those who travel federal highways at night. But this time the setting resembles a black-and-white Soviet film about revolutionary sailors and striking railway workers. Several drivers sit at a table in the corner and noisly discuss where protesters set out for Moscow and where they got stuck. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the protest has no unified leadership, truckers from different cities do not know each other, and communications between individual convoys have to be established right now.
Mysterious phrases break through the buzz of the conversation.
“What is Basil saying?”
“Where is Oversize Lyokha?
“How is Platform Trailer Vadim?”
“He says he has thirty platform trailers behind him.”
“We are confused ourselves,” gaily remarks Viktor to universal laughter. “We are confused about the highways, the days of the week, and about life in general.”
Communication between the convoys is maintained by delegates, trucker drivers who have got behind the wheel of passenger cars to get past the traffic police posts.
“Andryukha traveled to the Don Highway and talked with the groups [of truckers] parked there. In some places there were a hundred trucks, in other places, thirty,” explains Vova, a well-built man in a sweater. “We have to get the lay of the land, to understand how many trucks in all are planning to convoy and what people’s moods are. Meaning the protest movement is looping back on itself. Tonight, everyone should be on the line so that the coordination is tighter the closer we get to Moscow.”
No one knows the exact number of protesters involved, even the date is still under question, but all the truckers know what they have to do: get to the Moscow Ring Road on Saturday, get into the far right lane, and reduce speed to the minimum allowed.
“Picture this. At the same time, we drive onto the ring from different directions and take up positions in our rightful lanes, one and two,” describes Vova, his eyes blazing. “And our Moscow activists switch to passenger vehicles and driver alongside us in lanes three, four, and five. You thus end up with a giant snail: five lanes on the Moscow Ring Road in both directions. And in Moscow, two such snails are enough for everything to short circuit and grind to a halt,” he says, smiling proudly.
The truckers do not know what they will do next.
Heavy Duty Arithmetic
The date when the snail was to crawl on the Moscow Ring Road has been postponed several times. Now the truckers have seemingly come to a final agreement. On Thursday (December 3, 2015) at noon, they will watch President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly.
“This whole time, nobody has reported about us and our demands, neither Channel One nor NTV,” Victor says with resentment in his voice. “Only the Internet has written about us, but radio and TV have been silent. We are waiting for the address in order to see whether Putin knows about the problem or not, whether he intends to do something or whether we are ‘uninteresting’ to him.”
“I think he doesn’t decide such issues. It is all done for him. Well yeah, the Rotenbergs are his friends. But the law was passed while Medvedev was still president, and he signed this ‘rubbish.’ Maybe Putin just does not have all the information,” says a young driver, a little haltingly.
“Personally, I am fed up with this uncertainty,” wearily says a very thin young man with close-cropped hair as he approaches the table. He is Alexander, a convoy delegate who recently returned from Rostov. It is evident he can barely stand on his feet from lack of sleep, but he shakes hands with everyone and sits down at the table.
“Putin should say it clearly: pay, guys. That is what we have decided and we are not going to change it. It would be good if he came out to the people and told them straight in the eye.”
“And then what?”
“Then I’ll sell my truck, pay off my loans, and go live in some other country.”
Currently, Plato charges 1.53 rubles per kilometer, but beginning in March of next year this rate will double, to 3.06 rubles per kilometer. Self-employed truckers are completely certain that the new toll system will bankrupt them within a few months. To prove this, they discuss their incomes and expenses in detail, citing figures.
“Well, look. A freight run between Petersburg and Moscow costs 36 to 40 thousand rubles. This is considered a very good rate for a round-trip run,” says Viktor. “But almost 20 thousand rubles of this sum goes for fuel. The exact figure depends on the truck. European trucks use less fuel; American trucks use more. Russian trucks use even more.”
On the road, truckers need to fuel up themselves.
“You can see yourselves what the prices are like in the cafes. You go into eat and you spend no less than 300 rubles, sometimes a whole 500 rubles. You run up a food bill of no less than two or two and half thousand rubles during a run.”
A run lasts from three to five days. Moscow is closed at night to trucks, so they often have to idle on the approach to the capital.
“As a result, I have one, at most two runs a week,” says Viktor. “Excluding fuel and food I make 16 to 18 thousand rubles per run. And that is if nothing has broken down on the road. It can happen that you run over a piece of metal and burst a tire. Then you hand over that 18 thousand for repairs. You haven’t been home for an entire week, and you show up with no money.”
In addition, there are monthly expenses on routine maintenance of the truck—topping up the oil, making small, preventive repairs—whose costs come to about 20% of the fuel consumed over a month.
“I also pay 40 thousand a year in motor vehicle taxes,” the drivers says, bending his fingers. “Plus around six thousand for insurance. And I am registered in Novgorod Region, where the rates are tiny. Vovka pays twice as much in Leningrad Region.”
Vovka nods in agreement.
“And there is the excise tax for fuel, seven rubles a liter,” continues Viktor. “And I also have to pay for vehicle inspection, tire replacement, and all expendable supplies. We all here are just barely earning the minimum, and they are trying to finish us off with a new tax.”
According to Viktor, he puts between 100,000 and 150,000 kilometers a year on his truck.
“Next year, the toll will be 3.06 rubles [per kilometer],” the trucker reminds us. “So I will have to pay at least 400 thousand rubles [approx. 5,500 euros at current exchange rates] to the Rotenbergs. Meaning to Plato.”
The truckers have no idea where they will get the money. Officials at the Ministry of Transportation have tried to persuade them that their wallets will not suffer because their customers will end up paying the difference.
“Yeah, the customer will pay me more, but he will raise his prices. I will go into his store and pay more,” says Viktor, shrugging.
In addition, the Ministry of Transportation has not taken into account the fact that truckers have to run empty for many kilometers.
“I live in Novgorod the Great. It is a small city. We have nothing to transport,” says the trucker. “The largest freight turnover is between Moscow and Petersburg. For me to get to a customer in Petersburg I have to travel 200 kilometers, mileage I pay out of my own pockets. Dropping by home is 200 kilometers there and 200 kilometers back. And so it goes every time.”
“I am from Tver. We have work for a fifth of our drivers at most. Everybody else goes to Moscow or Petersburg,” confirms the man sitting next to him at the table.
“Listen, but even if you are traveling empty, you are still damaging the road, no?” I ask.
The truckers eye me suspiciously. Stating that trucks have negative impact on the road surface is a grievous heresy to them.
“Look at the ring roads in Moscow and Petersburg,” they argue. “Cargo vehicles are forbidden from driving beyond the second lane. So what is the lowdown? In the left lanes, where only passenger vehicles travels, the ruts are much deeper and the bumps bigger than in the lanes where trucks travel.”
“And most importantly, what are we paying for?” asks Alexander. “I traveled though Totma just now, the snow was coming down, and they were putting down asphalt? Right under the snow, can you imagine? And they are demanding money from us for this.”
And yet the drivers point out that Platon will be a blow not just for them but for all of small business. Alexander quietly tells us about a small furniture factory in Saratov owned by three young men his age. The factory used to send three truckloads a day to stores in Moscow and Petersburg, but in recent months, they have been sending three truckloads a week.
“They say that because of the crisis all their supplies have become more expensive,” recounts Alexander. “The parts and the leatherette are from China, their furniture has become more expensive, and people don’t want to buy it at the new prices.”
If the factory now has to pay its driver an additonal five or six thousand rubles for each run, it will simply go bust.
“And it is local people who work there, not Uzbeks. I have talked to them. They make 40 to 50 thousand rubles a month, good money. I went into the cafeteria, and there you can eat for fifty rubles, without a markup,” says Alexander. “Who is going to win if the factor closes and dozens of people lose their jobs? Who wants that?”
“That is why we private drivers are so worried< he says, turning to me. “We see our customers, talk with them, and realize that many of them will just not be able to cope. This road toll will finish them off.”
“Well, what are we all going to do?” Viktor asks angrily from the other end of the table. “My daughter is five months old. My wife is taking care of her and cannot work for now. And my wife has a problem with her milk, she has been underfeeding her. We have been buying dry milk now. A can costs 1,200 rubles and lasts for a week. Figure out how much that comes to for a month.”
“I don’t mean this is such an unbearable amount,” he continues with such fervor it immediately becomes clear that this is big money, why hide it? “But it’s another fifteen hundred for diapers. Then it’s something else, and something else again. Now it’s this Plato,” he says angrily. “What am I supposed to? What are we supposed to do now? Where do we go? To be honest, all we know how to do is drive trucks.”
The other truckers look at him in silence.
An eighteen-wheeler slowly passes the window.
“There is another one driving under the black flag,” someone at the table scornfully utters. “Profiting at our expense, the bugger.”
Due to the fact that some drivers are involved in the protests, there has been a deficit of free trucks in recent weeks. Customers have begun offering two times as much for runs, and many private drivers have gladly agreed to haul their goods. But, in order to save money, they also have not installed the Plato system. The striking truckers regularly ridicule them on CB radio, but they prefer to remain silent.
“Well, so what should we call them?” one of the drivers asks me indigndantl. “Strikebreakers? What kind of breakers are they? They’re out-and-out ‘reptiles’ is what they are!”
Viktor recounts how he recently quarreled with his father-in-law, who is also a truck driver, but said that resistance was useless and installed the Plato system.
“The war hadn’t even begun, and he had already surrendered,” said the driver, outraged. “I told him so. I said, ‘You are my enemy, and I don’t want to know you.”
“You remember how Stalin didn’t free his son from the Germans?” Victor asks unexpectedly. “Well, I thought that if Stalin did not spare his son, then why the hell did I need such a father-in-law. The boys here with me, they are my family.”
The Road to the Moscow Ring Road
Late at night, most of the drivers disperse to their trucks to sleep. Those who are participating as passengers stay up to drink with stringer photographers who have shown up from somewhere. The whole time well-built men drink vodka sourly at the next table. Suddenly, one of them approaches the drivers and screams at a photographer, allegedly, for taking a picture of him. The situation becomes heated instantly. The strangers began pushing and challenging the other men to “come outside and talk.”
“They look like titushky,” says one of the truckers. “We saw them today. They were hanging around that car that has been following us. Now they’ll start a fight, and the cops will show up and detain everyone.”
“No, they’re just drunks,” his comrade disagrees with him. “But it’s unpleasant all the same.”
A fight has already begun outside, and the drivers advise all outsiders to leave the cafe until morning. We go to warm up in the truck of Valera, a calm 49-year-0ld man who proudly tells us he has been driving big rigs since 1987.
“Take off your shoes and come in. We’re going drink tea now,” he cordially invites us into the cab of his truck as if it were a flat.
Hearing about the drunken comrades, he shakes his head disapprovingly.
“We are already losing soldiers on the way to Moscow.”
Valera ignites a small burner and puts a tiny metal teapot on it. As the water heats up, we thaw in the warmth and inspect the cab.
“I’ll have to sell the truck now,” the middle-aged driver says softly. “Although who wants it? I’ll get kopecks for it. Yes, it’s old, but I bought it that way on purpose, then repaired it myself. I am good with my hands.”
I ask him why private truckers would rather leave their jobs than work for a haulage company.
“A comrade of mine worked for a company. He made 50 thousand rubles a month,” Valera drily replies. “Only he spent one or two days at home a month. He gets back to Petersburg from a run, leaves his truck at the boss’s lot, gets on a commuter train, rides seventy kilometers, spends the night at home, and in the morning gets a call telling him to come in right away. Is that a life? I cannot take that anymore, I’m too old. And nobody can take it. That is why almost 80% of long-haul drivers are private drivers or tiny individual entrepreneurs who own a couple of trucks.”
We drink hot tea as Valera unfolds the sleeping berth.
“We all realize, of course, that the government suddenly needed money,” he says as we part. “We have got the turmoil in Syria, and missiles also cost money. But MPs should find other reserves to pay for this, not pay for it at our expense.”
In the morning, the drivers sleepily gather for a smoke next to their trucks.
“Policemen approached us last night and warned that everyone would be stopped at the nearest Road Patrol Service post and charged with extremism,” one of them grimly recounts.
“Come on, he was pulling your leg. What kind of extremists are we?” a comrade responds to him incredulously.
“Well, maybe he was kidding, but it is unpleasant in any case,” concludes a third driver.
While the drivers gather in the cafe, where they have planned to watch the president’s speech together, we drive to a Road Patrol Service post.
“We are not looking for any extremism here,” the police commander answers firmly as his subordinates snatch trucks and semis from the stream of traffic with waves of their batons.
“We are just in the midst of Operation Anti-Terror, and we are selectively checking all vehicles,” he explains in an official tone before adjusting a young policeman’s sagging reflective vest and walking away.
The policemen at the post copy down the license numbers and passport details of the truck drivers.
“Are you waiting for the anti-Platonists?” asks one of the policeman, unable to contain himself. “They won’t make it here. They will be stopped before they get here.”
Ten minutes before the start of the broadcast, the drivers suddenly change their location and drive a couple of kilometers to the next cafe, where about a dozen truckers are already sitting. The drivers silently listen to the president. They refrain from commenting on his speech, but with each passing minute they lose more and more interest in it. When the head of state begins talking about the problems of villagers, the drivers start telephoning their comrades and discussing different routes to Moscow.
Petersburg Truckers Say No to Plato David Frenkel
Special to the Russian Reader
November 27, 2015
On November 24, Petersburg truckers joined protests against the new levies imposed heavy tonnage cargo trucks known as the Plato payment system, which have sparked unprecedented work stoppages and other protests by Russian truckers nationwide.
Alexander Rastorguyev, leader of the TIGR (Association of Go-Getting Russian Citizens) movement, and Sergei Gulyayev, an ex-deputy of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, both known for their opposition politics, inspired local truckers to launch a “snail” protest convoy.
The truckers took off in two separate convoys on parallel streets, Moscow Highway and Sofia Street, at 11 a.m. Shortly afterwards, another group of trucks joined them, increasing the number of slowly moving trucks to three hundred.
The truckers held a spontaneous rally on Sofia Street, where Rastorguyev urged them to keep driving to the Smolny, Petersburg city hall, where the authorities would “listen to them.”
During the rally, a tire was set on fire, an obvious reference to the Euromaidan protests.
The truckers slowly moved onto the Petersburg Ring Road, paralyzing traffic in the streets. The convoy was led by a group of cars plastered with anti-Plato posters. Traffic police regularly stopped the drivers, although no one was detained.
While the truckers made their way to the Smolny, authorities negotiated with protest leaders. The authorities warned the trucks would paralyze the downtown and suggested that truckers choose six delegates to negotiate with a deputy governor in his office another part of the downtown.
The truckers, however, did not want to elect delegates. They wanted a meeting directly with authorities at the Smolny and as an entire group.
Around thirty truckers finally reached the gates to the Smolny, although they had to leave their trucks on the other side of the Neva River. They gathered around the entrance and waited for officials to come out and negotiate with them. They waited in vain.
They stood and talked among themselves for about an hour until police arrived. A police officer demanded they disperse and organize a legal rally instead. Claiming they had not “come for a revolution,” they decided to give the authorities a chance, promising to organize a snail convoy to Moscow if their demands were not fulfilled in the coming days.
All photos by and courtesy of David Frenkel
Read my previous posts on the new Plato cargo haulage levy system and protests by Russian truckers:
“Soon the whole country will work for the Rotenbergs”
November 25, 2015 Rosbalt
Long-haul truckers have continued their protests against the Plato system in Russia. Truckers are outraged by new tolls on federal highways and are determined to have them abolished. In the Northern Capital, drivers got all the way to the Smolny [Petersburg city hall], but a dialogue with the authorities did not take place there. Private entrepreneurs and veteran truckers Oleg Krutskikh and Alexei Zhatko told Rosbalt about why they are willing to fight to the last, what they will do in the event of failure, and what their families think about their protest.
How did you start working as truckers?
Oleg: I began driving when I got out of the army, in 1998 or 1999. My dad was a driver, and I followed in his footsteps. You know how it is: army brats are drawn to the army. Well, sons of truckers are drawn to trucking. First, I drove a KamAZ, then a MAZ. I am from the Voronezh Region. In the 2000s, my family and I moved to Petersburg. I spent ten years behind the wheel of cargo trucks, then I became an entrepreneur, although I have kept driving myself.
Alexei: I am originally from the Stavropol Territory. I moved to Petersburg in 1999. I moved my father here. He is a trucker. At first, I worked as a dispatcher in a container company. Then I took a truck from this company to break in. I put Dad behind the wheel, and he went to work. Then I started to drive myself and I bought several trucks.
It was profitable to work in freight haulage then, right?
Oleg: Yes, in the no-holds-barred nineties and noughties, you got paid in cash in dollars. A round trip within the city cost $100, to Moscow, $850–950. Then we were forced to legalize, which was the right thing to do. We started paying taxes. We became self-employed entrepreneurs or turned our operations into limited liability companies. Until 2008, we did more or less all right. We made enough to pay for fuel and pay our drivers. The oil flowed abroad, and the government had enough money both for itself and for people, to throw them some bones. Then the dollar rose, the price of spare parts soared, and there was less work. Depreciation amounts to a lot of money in Russia, and you are left with peanuts. Basically, we cannot afford to replace our vehicle fleets.
Alexei: From 2002 to 2008, when the tax system was semi-gray and payments were made in cash, I bought trucks. I had eight of them. Subsequently, every year I would cut one truck to be able to repair the rest. Now I have one heavy transport truck left. I used to have these issues. I would drive to the service center and they would replace all the bad parts. You won’t believe me, but now I know which city and which demo yard has the cheapest spare parts. What is a demo yard? A place that sells used parts. That means we are not running 100% safe on the road anymore. Even if a part has 20% wear and tear, your safety is lower.
Oleg: The point is that incomes have fallen almost to zero. Basically, [the authorities] want to take the shirt off our backs, but we are refusing to budge. We are not earning anything nowadays. We have ground to a halt and are idling.
Have you been involved in the protests for long?
Oleg: Since November 11.
Alexei: I was out of town for two months. I left in August, and when I got back these new developments had emerged. I was forced to leave the truck in Krasnodar and fly here. It was cheaper. I have not worked since November 15.
The stance of the authorities is clear. Long-haul truckers must pay the damages the big rigs cause to federal highways.
Alexei: I really do not understand this. If the permissible weight is forty tons, how can I cause damage to roads? I pay motor vehicle tax and excise duties. I cannot cause more damage than is stipulated by the State Standards. But I am told that I cause more damage than I should anyway.
Nobody knows how the motor vehicle tax is spent. Take a look at our roads. The M10 from Petersburg to Moscow is more or less okay. The M7, to Tatarstan, is good, and the M4 is not bad. There are no other [decent] roads [in Russia]. Take, for example, the M5. The section from Syzran to Penza is a disaster. From Samara almost to Ufa there are two hundred-odd kilometers that we travel at a snail’s pace. And then they say they are closing the highway because it has drifted. In fact, they just do not plow the road, and traffic moves slowly. You cannot climb hills or get up to speed. So the authorities decide to close the whole thing. It is easier for them.
Oleg: Or take a look at how much the toll roads cost. They have now opened a road near Vishny Volochyok to Moscow. It is 920 rubles one-way, meaning nearly 2,000 rubles round trip [approx. 28 euros]. The toll on the M11 is 1,200 rubles. So a round trip has gone up by 4,000 rubles. And I have not figured in the tolls on the Western High-Speed Diameter. Plus, the Plato system costs around 2,000 rubles until March, then it will cost 5,000 rubles. The rise in expenses due to toll roads will come to around 9,000 rubles. That is a 25% increase.
Look, a 25% rise in freight haulage costs means that all the prices in the shops will go up. Old ladies and pensioners will bear the brunt. I think the authorities are keen to put tolls on absolutely all roads. For example, Leningrad Region Governor Drozdenko said that regional roads should be toll roads, too. They have gone after the truckers first, because we could be accused of damaging the roads. If they imposed this law on all drivers at once, it would not be just us who were out protesting. Others would come have out as well.
Do you think the authorities were afraid of mass protests?
Oleg: I think they wanted to get us to this point stage by stage. At first, they will work out the bugs on us, and then gradually incorporate everyone else.
It will come to the point where drivers of passenger cars will pay the duty as well. If we do not squash it and stop it, the entire country will work for the Rotenbergs. The burden will fall on everyone’s shoulder. We will be like slaves. They will legally be able to use us.
Alexei: Try and understand the trucker’s mindset. I like my job because I am as free as the wind. If I want to go Novosibirsk, I go there. Tomorrow, I might want to go to Krasnodar. It is a kind of freedom. But now they are trying to put a noose around my neck, and they can always tighten it. I find myself in Novosibirsk, for example. They tighten the noose, and I cannot make it back home. My only choice would be to abandon everything, sell the truck, and get home on some other form of transport. So I don’t want this noose. But long-haul truckers are a kind of caste who are no strangers to hardship. Our lifestyle differs little from that of a dog. We live in our rigs like a dog in a kennel. Just like a dog pisses on the wheel, so do we. So if truckers do end up moving on Moscow [in protest] that will not be a problem. Living in our rigs for a month near Moscow would be easier than pie.
You have not even tried to register on the Plato system?
Alexei: Why should I? I don’t recognize it and I am not planning to recognize it.
It would be easier for me to run my rig downtown sometime, drive it up to the Smolny ignoring all the traffic warning signs, and set fire to it.
What is the point of working under such a system? I am ashamed for the government. I used to idolize Medvedev. I used to respect him. Three or four years ago, he said that we would add a tax of seven rubles to the price of fuel and abolish the motor vehicle tax. I was really happy about this. I thought, let it be that way. I did not quite get it, but it would be simpler for me than running to the state savings bank all the time to pay the taxes and fees. But how has it all turned out?
Now they are promising to reduce the fines, but there is not a single regulatory document backing this promise up. You phone Rosavtodor (the Russian Federal Road Agency), and [they tell you] the rates on the Plato website are still in effect. How is that? My idol Dmitry Medvedev says one thing, but something else happens. This has political implications. But still, it is painful, what can I say.
I understand that you don’t want to associate your protests with politics?
Oleg: This is our life. We are fighting for it, for the lives of our families and their families.
Alexei: We don’t need revolutions and upheavals, because there are problems after all upheavals, and the economy will have to recover. There won’t be any work, and the country will suffer from poverty. We don’t want that.
And what is the difference? One group of people is now in power, then people just like them will take over. The only thing I do not understand is why a barrel of oil cost eight dollars in the 1990s, and now it costs over forty dollars, but we still do not have enough money. And why in the 1990s, if someone in the government admitted his mistakes, he offered his resignation, but nowadays an official who has goofed up big time says, “Well, that didn’t work out. Sorry, but I am going to keep working.”
Oleg: And what happened with [former Russian defense minister] Serdyukov? How could you, guys? They spit in the country’s face. If they spit in the Investigative Committee’s face, who are we truckers? I won’t be surprised if [the powers that be] do not react to us at all, if they just have the riot police crush us.
You think they could start cracking down on the protests using the riot police?
Oleg: For now we are being treated more or less decently. Time will tell.
What is the news from the field? Do you know anything about how the events have affected businesses in Russia?
Alexei: The first [city] to sound the alarm has been Tyumen. They produce their own bread and milk, but everything else is shipped in. The produce will not last long. In Volgograd, a glass factory has temporarily shut down. But here I am thinking: many factories are certainly owned by politicians, by MPs. Ordinary people would not own them. And this is a blow to the owners. So while we are not driving, there should be some movement on the part of our rulers.
According to my information, there are four ferries at a standstill in Novorossiysk, and New Year’s is around the corner. In Derbent, there are many train cars loaded with persimmons, tangerines, and pomegranates that are not going anywhere. They simply have nowhere to offload the produce there. The persimmons arrive there in ordinary heated freight cars and cannot be stored for long. I think if we continue the stoppage, then it will not just be a protest—
But a strike, rather.
Alexei: It is a strike. We cannot go back on the roads. We have been cornered. If things go on like this, it will be worse.
Approximately how much do you pay in taxes per year?
Oleg: I did the calculations for seven trucks. We burn through about 30 tons of diesel a month. Multiply that by 7 rubles, and it comes to 210,000 rubles a month, or two and half million rubles a year. Plus there is the motor vehicle tax and the taxes for individual entrepreneurships and limited liability companies. All in all, it comes to around three and a half million rubles [approx. 50,000 euros]. Meaning that if Plato goes online, we will probably bite the dust, and the treasury will come up three and a half million rubles short. If you do the math, that amounts to good pensions for twenty-eight old ladies or tiny pensions for fifty old ladies. So all those old ladies will lose their pensions. The people who work for me will end up at the unemployment office, and the state will have to cut them unemployment checks.
The truckers have shown all Russians a great example of solidarity. Basically, people from different parts of the country have united to fight for their rights.
Alexei: Despite the fact that the media have been blacking us out, all of us—our groups of drivers and our dispatchers—have been getting the message out. I have lots of dispatchers who have been explaining to customers that they are not going hand over loads to anyone, because we are all in solidarity, because each of us has his trucks out there. When I was driving from Novorossiysk to Krasnodar to store my truck in the lot there, a traffic cop stopped me. He asked where I was going. I explained I was going to a lot, then flying to Petersburg.
That was a traffic cop who asked me. What does this tell us? That the traffic police, too, probably have their own trucks out there or friends and acquaintances. They support the truckers, but they have their orders. I myself am a former military man. Everyone understands everything perfectly.
As far as I know, the police have so far not been actively hindering the protests. In Petersburg, for example, the protesters got off with small fines.
Alexei: No, their objective is to break up the convoys of trucks.
Are you not afraid of provocations?
Oleg: We got together to figure out how we would run our protests, and there was immediately news on the web that Oleg Krutskikh was an accomplice of Navalny and all. Someone started writing to truckers that there would be no protest, that it had been called off. A specific agency is working against us.
Alexei: People get SMS alerts that a protest will not take place. That so-and-so works for Navalny and is trying to start a commotion.
What do you think about United Russia MP Yevgeny Fyodorov’s statement? He said you were protesting “at the behest of the United States.”
Alexei: That is insane. Perhaps the man has some problems. Maybe he reads too much about America. There is no trace of commonsense audible or visible in what he said.
Oleg: I would like to appeal to you as a member of the media. 80% of the news is about Egypt and Syria. Guys, we have so many problems in our own country that at least 95% of the population could care less what is happening abroad. Only the 5% who have business abroad care. I have a huge request for you all: tell us, the 95%, about Russia. When things have been put to right in Russia, maybe you can tell us about life in other countries.
Alexei: I guess then it will be difficult for someone to raising his popularity rating. Showmen dominate politics in our country. More than anything they want good ratings, not to solve the major problems within the country.
I really am unconcerned about what is going down in Donetsk when I have nothing to eat at home. I have to feed my own people. I have two children, after all. I have been shut down for two weeks, and I realize that my wallet is empty.
Will your reserves last long enough to keep off the road like this?
Alexei: It doesn’t matter. We will go take out a loan then. Clearly, we won’t be able to pay it back. But we do not have much of a choice. We have to live.
So you are going hold out to the last, then?
Alexei and Oleg: We will hold out to the last. We have nothing to lose. We cannot go back out on the road: we will be fined.
How have your families reacted to your involvement in the truckers’ protests?
Alexei: My family has never been involved in politics. My spouse, although I do not share information with her, sees and understands everything perfectly well. She is a speech therapist and a teacher, who gets paid no more than fifteen thousand rubles a month [approx. 215 euros]. Yet she tells me I should quit this business. But I cannot quit my job. This is a lifestyle.
Oleg: It would be hard now to retrain to do some other job. As for the protests, my involvement has been spontaneous. They say I am an activist. I am no activist. I am just someone who generally likes the truth.
Everyone now involved in the protests are activists.
Alexei: Yeah, take any trucker. Any of us can be slapped with the charge of organizing a protest. Because all of us are on the telephone communicating.
We exchange telephone numbers at our encampments, and that has united us even more. But we have no leaders. All of us are organizers. We agree to meet by calling each other. One person passes the information on to the next person. The radio is our mass medium. All of us could be locked up as organizers.
In Dagestan, for example, it is not just Dagestanis who are attending the protests, but people from different regions. The guys at our encampment in Novorossiysk snapped and took off for Dagestan, because they knew it would be the hottest spot. That is how fast information spreads among our lot. And if the politicians think we are disorganized louts, they are wrong, although that is what many of them are saying.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Rosbalt
“On November 30, we will go to Moscow and shut down the Moscow Ring Road!”: Major protests by truckers in the Caucasus
Irina Gordiyenko | Dagestan
November 22, 2015 Novaya Gazeta
A major protest by truckers is taking place in the Caucasus. Officials are trying to ignore it, and in response truckers are threatening to move on Moscow
Strikes by truckers against the introduction of a new road tax have swept across Russia. The biggest of them is still underway in Dagestan. Hundreds of truckers have lined up along dozens of kilometers of highway. Manas, Khasavyurt, Kizlyar, and Kayakent are the spots where people have been striking for a week. The protests have been ignored. Officials have avoided contacting the strikers, while television has refused to cover the strike. Amateur videos posted on the web are immediately removed and their users blocked.
The strikers are determined. If their demands are not heard, they intend to move on Moscow on November 30.
The roadside of the Rostov-Baku M29 highway near Khasavyurt looks gaudy at the moment. Trucks with yellow, red, blue, and green cabs are parked in two tight rows next to each other. The trailers are hung with enormous posters reading, “Hands off long-haul trucking!” and “Stop robbing the people!” The chain of trucks stretches for dozens of kilometers, and at any moment the annoyed truckers could block this federal highway.
“We don’t want to do it,” says Dibir, a trucker from a small village nearby. “We know it will be violently dispersed. But they don’t want to hear us. We went to the city administration, to the Ministry of Transportation, and to Rosavtodor (Russian Federal Road Agency). They wouldn’t even let us in the door. We called the TV channels: they have refused to come cover us. Instead, they sent in trucks of riot police.”
An excited crowd of around two hundred people stands around an improvised stage. From time to time, someone mounts the stage to appeal to the truckers not to give up and stand their ground.
They have been here for five days. They sleep in their cabs, cook their own food, and during the daytime they welcome the growing number of colleagues who have been joining the strike. They are no strangers to hardship. They have been tempered by runs on rough roads lasting many days.
As of November 15, vehicles weighing over twelve tons are charged an additional fee for each kilometer of federal highway they travel. The government issued a decree setting the fee at three rubles six kopecks per kilometer. The new system of taxation has been dubbed Plato. In effect, truckers (or trucking companies) are obliged to register with Plato and choose one of two methods of payment. They can either buy a special onboard device that counts the kilometers of federal highway they travel and then calculates the fee, or before each run, they can buy a detailed route map from the company running Plato.
If they refuse to pay, individual entrepreneurs can be fined 40,000 rubles [approx. 580 euros]; legal entities, 450,000 rubles [approx. 6,500 euros].
In the best case scenario, you can make forty to fifty thousand rubles per run,” says Dibir. “The [new] tax adds an additional fifteen thousand rubles in costs. What are we going to live on?! We are not on the Forbes list.”
All Russian truckers now know about the Forbes magazine list of Russia’s wealthiest people and the spot occupied on the list by Arkady Rotenberg.
The surname Rotenberg is now quite popular in Dagestan. Posters bearing it can be seen all along the the M29, for example, “Rotenberg is worse than ISIS” (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) and “Russia without the Rotenbergs.” Every trucker now knows that billionaire Arkady Rotenberg is a friend and supporter of President Putin, that Arkady Rotenberg has a son named Igor Rotenberg, and that Igor Rotenberg owns a little company that mysteriously signed a contract with the government farming the new federal transportation tax out to this private company.
Truckers are not only the people who haul loads from their own regions to other regions, for example, Dagestani cabbage. (There are several districts in Dagestan that traditionally cultivate green cabbage on an industrial scale and then supply it to other parts of Russia during the winter.) Truckers are one of the foundations of the Russian produce economy.
Watermelons, tomatoes, onions, aubergines, pomegranates, and oranges: all this produce is brought from Iran and Azerbaijan, and the geography of further transshipments covers the entire country. For example, Dagestani truckers literally “pick up” and transport the entire harvest of Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, Astrakhan Region, and Volgograd Region to other parts of the country. They supply the major markets of Moscow and Saint Petersburg with produce.
“We are in the fifth day of our strike. Around three hundred train carloads of persimmons have piled up on the Azerbaijani border, right in the middle of the fruit’s season,” one of the strikers explains to me. “Three hundred train carloads is nine hundred truckloads that we should have delivered to Russian markets. Instead, the produce is spoiling. Take a look at how much persimmon prices skyrocket now.”
There are over two million heavy trucks officially registered in Russia. Around half of these are registered in the south of Russia. Cargo transportation is now in the truest sense one of the most important sources of income in Dagestan, a republic of three million people.
Take, for example, the large village of Gudben. Its population is around fifteen thousand people, and it has two thousand registered trucks. The average family in Gudben consists of five people, so at least ten thousand residents of Gudben survive on the money earned from cargo runs.
“We would love to find other work,” says Guben resident Tahir, “but there is just no other work in Dagestan. This is the only way we can feed our families.”
The second major site of the trucker protests is the federal highway near the small village of Manas. Several days ago, outraged truckers blocked the highway, demanding that authorities come meet with them. The authorities did come, but incognito. They threw up their hands and left. Then they sent in truckloads of riot police, who dispersed the protest.
So far the truckers have agreed not to block the highway. They are waiting. But riot police are on duty there. Every day they detain dozens of people, charge them with misdemeanors and send them to jail for ten days, videotape the truck drivers, and rip the license plates from their trucks.
The truckers are philosophical about such methods of coercion. We will not succumb to provocations. We want to be heard, they say.
The Dagestanis have been joined in their protests by truckers from other regions.
“I cannot imagine how we will go on living. This is going to be a big blow to our wallets,” says Vladimir from Saratov.
A couple days ago, Vladimir unloaded a cargo of Sakhalin fish in Krasnodar. Hearing that a big strike was underway in Dagestan, he decided to join it.
“In other parts of Russia, the protest actions have quickly come to an end. They have been quickly dispersed. But the folks here are stubborn,” says Vladimir.
And Vladimir is not alone. Many truckers from other regions who made runs to the south over the past week have joined the Dagestanis, including Chechens. In Chechnya itself, there is a strict taboo on any protest, so they are forced to travel to neighboring regions to strike against the injustice.
“A liter of diesel costs thirty-three rubles. For example, you need half a ton [of fuel] to get to Moscow,” continues trucker Tahir. “Under Medvedev, the price of diesel went up by seven rubles and we were promised a decrease in the transportation tax. We believed them. But the tax never was decreased. And now a new tax has been introduced to boot.”
In addition to fuel, every trucker has to pay the transportation tax (around forty thousand rubles a year), insurance (around fifteen thousand rubles per run), and customs duties (if the produce hails from Iran or Azerbaijan), plus license fees and a ton of other related formalities. We should also consider that any breakdown is the driver’s responsibility. Spare parts for all trucks, whether they are Volvos or KamAZes, are expensive.
“I ran into a pothole on a dark highway in Volgograd Region. I was stuck there for a week. I paid twenty thousand rubles [for repairs]: that is about half of what I earned from the run. You cannot imagine how awful the roads are around Volgograd and Samara! And for this we have to pay more?!” relates one trucker.
But there is yet another nuance. The new road tax will inevitably lead to higher rates for cargo transportation. The truckers will be forced to include them in the cost of their services, and so prices for the goods they transport will increase nationwide.
“We do not want to do it. People here live very poorly as it is,” says the trucker Dibir. “Price have gone up at the markets in Khasavyurt. We will fight to the last. And if they do not want to hear us, we will drive to Moscow and set up camp on the Moscow Ring Road. We are used to living in field conditions.”
Are We Still Alive? Why the Thirty- and Forty-Something Generation Has Retreated into Political Oblivion
October 2, 2014 Snob.ru
Ten years ago or so, the current thirty- and fortysomethings would often have to ask the question, Is he (or she) really still alive? Sometimes this led to amusing blitz investigations. I remember how my friends and I checked whether Soviet crooner Eduard Hill was still alive while sitting on the far terrace of a restaurant where a wedding was being celebrated with a live performance of Hill’s songs. After listening for an hour, we hazarded the guess that only Hill himself could perform Hill’s entire repertoire. The Internet was slow back then, and we three liberal arts people stared spellbound for a long time at the tiny screen of a mobile telephone to ascertain that Hill was indeed alive. It was a good learning experience: when “Trololo” rang out, we were no longer asking the embarrassing question. But it didn’t prevent me, some time later, from saying with genuine surprise to a regular contributor to the literary journal Novy Mir, “Novy Mir still comes out?!” People continue to recall journalist Oleg Kashin’s reaction to a news item about writer Vladimir Voinovich: “What, he’s still alive?”
That was an elegiac sketch about bygone days. Nowadays, one wouldn’t ask whether poet Yunna Moritz were alive, whether theater director Yuri Lyubimov* were well, whether children’s writer Eduard Uspensky were still with us, and whether writer and Literary Gazette editor Yuri Polyakov still walked the face of the earth, not to mention Voinovich. Nowadays, it is easier to doubt in one’s own existence than ask the reasonable question about the relevance of the political commentary given by all these mentioned and unmentioned elders. But since thirty- and forty-somethings have retreated into political oblivion at present, we can ask (from the viewpoint of eternity as it were) why this is so.
The answer is obvious: there is nothing genuine in current Russian reality. Only antiques are “genuine” in our country. People in Kharkov topple a statue of Lenin—and then people in Russia discuss Lenin’s role in Russian history for a week. Russia annexes Crimea, and anyone capable of writing in this country spends the following six months compiling a chronicle of various annexations. We know what all the cultural greats of the stagnation era think about Ukraine. If one of them hasn’t spoken out yet, it just means he or she has already died.
However, the lack of genuineness in the realm of public opinion, just like this realm’s spectral existence itself, does not mean that nothing happens or is accomplished in Russia. On the contrary, things happen and are accomplished, and quite quickly. Exactly one week passed between the news that Arkady Rotenberg’s villas in Italy had been seized by the authorities there and the Russian cabinet’s positive appraisal of the bill for the so-called Rotenberg law. The government’s decision did not even need to be discussed or simply justified; it was sufficient to refer to the urgency. “What seemed to be not so urgent only four months ago, now, given the increased risk of miscarriages of justice, appears differently,” Vedomosti quoted a source on the Russian White House staff as saying.
As soon as the question arises as to where in the budget the money will come from to compensate seized villas and loss of profits, solutions are found just like that: abolish the “maternity capital” program, make cuts here, here, and there, raise this and that. Justifications do not matter: one can safely say that the maternity capital program “does not increase the number of children, but merely shifts the calendars of births” without giving a thought to the fact that pensions, basically, merely shift the “calendar of deaths,” but do not abolish them. We are faced with a situation in which what really happens is successfully accomplished without being enunciated, whereas enunciation revolves around an unreal past. But how is this reality possible? Why does Rotenberg manage to break into reality, while this is such a daunting task for the public? There should be solid foundations for this, no?
And there are. For all their seeming lack of principle, the current Russian authorities have one firm principle, a symbol of faith, one might even say. It consists in the fact that they never abandon their own kind. The principle has even graced a billboard: “It is important to use every opportunity to help concrete people.” “Concrete people” really means concrete people, and we even know how many of these concrete people there are in Russia.
List of founders of the Ozera dacha cooperative
The fundamental difference between Putin and the public, which is choking on the fumes of the past, does not consist in the fact that he holds all the power, while the public is disempowered. The real difference is that the authorities firmly believe in their principle of protecting their own, whereas the public believes in nothing. For the public, civil liberties, democratic elections of public officials, and the equality of all before the law are phrases that have repeatedly figured in history, rather than basic principles of social organization with which reality should be brought into line.
Principles, objectives, and ideals have their own reality, which in some sense is more solid than what we usually denote with the term “current events.” It is principles, objectives, and ideals that pull history into a line directed towards the future. When they are absent, time coils into a loop, and the only point of national history is to preserve Rotenberg’s wealth. No one would ever think to ask about him, “What, he’s still alive?”
*Editor’s Note. Renowned Russian theater director Yuri Lyubimov died a few days after this column was published.
“Helping Concrete People,” like Arkady Rotenberg
October 9, 2014 online812.ru
The topic would have been good only for a half a day’s worth of jokes along the lines of “soon he’ll be darning stockings” if the next day the Net had not learned about the rapid resuscitation in the State Duma of a bill from last year guaranteeing compensation from the federal budget for Russian citizens and companies who fall victim to “unjust decisions by foreign courts.”
As Georgy Alburov wrote, “Now the budget will pay for Rotenberg’s villas twice—when they are purchased and when compensation for them is paid out.” And when the cabinet announced its unconditional approval of the draft law, and the Economic Development Ministry hinted it would be inexpedient to continue the “maternity capital” program, everyone got it. “All the maternity capital will be paid out to Rotenberg’s mother as a reward for having such a wonderful son,” wrote Anton Semakin. (In fact, she has two such sons.)
And it does not matter that the law would not help the Rotenbergs, because their properties are registered with foreign companies. What matters are the openness and shamelessness with which the bill has been submitted for consideration.
Nobody doubted the federal budget would compensate the Rotenbergs even without such a law being passed, and that if necessary, the compensation would even be shipped to them in white Kamaz trucks with masked license plates. Openly discussed, the law compensating people who do not have it all that bad at the expense of the poorest people has been a kind of watershed. Even morons have realized that now Russian citizens are required not just to silently tolerate rampant theft but to loudly voice their approval of it.
The most active among them have already begun to do this. In a column on the web site Pravoslavie.ru entitled “In Defense of Crooks and Thieves,” Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich wrote, “You can award me second place in a moron contest, but I really do believe that an alliance of crooks, thieves, and our perpetually underrated technical intelligentsia is a force still capable of pulling Russia out of the hole in which we wound up twenty years ago. Yes, these people act slowly and clumsily, and they constantly try and exceed the bounds of legality, but act they do, and that is why I find them sympathetic.”
“There is a crowd outside Christ the Punisher Cathedral, a flock of beggars. Or maybe they are not beggars. After all, you cannot tell nowadays who is a beggar, and who a victim of inhuman sanctions. There is a podium in front of the cathedral, and people are making the right speeches. […] And here is an old woman who really is a beggar. The poor thing is completely hunched over. She holds out her hand. ‘Dear, I am not asking for myself. Everything we collect today is for Little Arkady. That is what the capo from the cathedral said, you know, the one who confiscates our daily take. Today it’s all for darling Little Arkady. What a squeeze they’ve put on him over there! He is the one who is in real misery. We’ll muddle through, we will, but that little darling…’ The old woman is crying. I give her a ten-ruble coin.”
This only seems like a parody. The new Russian ideology, for which people searched in vain during the 1990s, has finally been found. Putin formulated it: “It is important to use every opportunity to help concrete people.” This phrase refers not only to Rotenberg; it is the indisputable principle of the new national mindset. Just as earlier everyone had to believe in communism’s inevitable triumph, now the entire politically trustworthy segment of the populace must sincerely believe in this principle’s inerrancy and omnipotence. True, the horizons of state ideology have narrowed markedly. But its totalizing nature remains the same.