Monday, January 8, 2018

‘This Country has No Future,’ Russia’s Long-Haul Truckers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 8 – In many countries, it is often said, taxi drivers have a better handle on the pulse of things than anyone else. In a country as large and diverse as Russia, long-haul truck drivers may fill a similar role. That makes their conclusion – “This country has no future” – not only disturbing but worth attending to.

            Maksim Sobesky of Kasparov. Ru spoke with two of them who in the course of their driving have encountered the arbitrariness of the siloviki and the incompetence of officials and who do not, despite what the Kremlin and the official media say, see any progress in Russia today (

            Ilya, a St. Petersburg driver who also owns his own fleet of trucks, says that the current economic arrangements are full of “absurdities” such as when fish from Murmansk are trucked to St. Petersburg to be packed only to be sent back to Murmansk for sale, with each intermediary getting his whack and sending prices up.

            The militia makes the situation worse by trying to enforce rules that don’t exist and extract money for themselves, something that he, Ilya, said he is able to resist better than most because he earlier served as an officer in one of the siloviki units subordinate to the FSB and knows both the law and his rights.

            Ilya travels throughout the country including his birthplace in the southern Urals where the situation is dire and to neighboring Bashkortostan where things are even worse. Earlier, officials there opened schools and hospitals; now the new rulers are closing everything leaving the villages without schools and hospitals.

            The difference in standards of living between Moscow and Petersburg, on the one hand, and the rest of the country, on the other, “is increasing with each passing year.” Tragically, he continues, “the authorities aren’t agitated by the condition of our country.” They may have improved some roads but they haven’t improved the economy.

                Consequently, Ilya concludes sadly, “this country simply has no future. None at all.”

            Anatoly, another driver but from Moscow, shares Ilya’s pessimism.  His biggest complaint is that the system fails to develop processing plants near where foodstuffs are produced and prices are jacked up by the various middlemen who care only about getting a share of the final price. 

            But he also says that highways are in terrible shape and that traffic jams make even short trips all day affairs or even worse.  He got into driving in the hopes of being able to make a middle class living; but now, he isn’t sure that is possible.  His expenses are going up and his income isn’t.

            So far, he says, he’s been able to “provide a normal start for his child: a school 100 meters from home, his son is involved professionally in karate, and the polyclinics are good. But it is frightening to think about the costs of higher education for him,” something that is rapidly approaching.

            But outside of Moscow, the situation is much worse for almost everything. Moreover, “the further one is from the capital, the poorer the regions are.”  As for Putin, Anatoly asks, “just how many years has he been sitting in power? And how does he intend to run the country in the future?”

            Sometimes, he says, he thinks he’d like to leave Russia behind and go to the West, “but in our days, everywhere chaos and crises are intensifying. I don’t want to go to the US: this is just the same corrupt country now that Russia is.”

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