“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: