Staunton, November 22 – Many commentators are focusing on the plans of long haul truckers from Daghestan to bring their protest to Moscow on November 30, but they have already taken a step which is likely to be even more consequential: They have declared that a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin is “worse than ISIS.”
Yesterday, some 200 truck drivers assembled in Khasavyurt in order to continue protests across Russia against Moscow’s decision to raise the user fees long haul truckers must pay and to hand over the collection of these fees to one of Putin’s friends, the oligarch Arkady Rotenberg (chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/dagestanskie-dalnoboyshchiki-rotenbergi-huzhe-chem-igil).
The drivers displayed signs declaring that “Rotenberg is worse than ISIS” and calling for “A Russia without Rotenbergs, especially provocative declarations given how close Rotenberg is to Putin and given that ISIS is not only legally banned in the Russian Federation but is the subject of intense media attacks.
Not surprisingly, the drivers say that the local militia told them that they had to disperse or face the prospect that the authorities would send in the OMON. But their slogans have caught the imagination of truckers and others across the Russian Federation, to judge from an article in “Novaya gazeta” (novayagazeta.ru/society/70831.html).
Irina Gordienko, a journalist for that Moscow paper, says that “now all Russian long haul truckers know the list of the richest people of Russia according to Forbes and what place Arkady Rotenberg occupies in it.” They also know that “the billionaire … is a friend and coworker of the president” and that he stands to gain enormously from the new fee arrangements.
She further points out that the long haul truckers are “one of the foundations of the Russian economy as far as consumer products are concerned.” There are officially more than two million such trucks in the country and a large number of them are based in its southern parts because that is where food supplies come from.
Consequently, the disruptions the truckers have caused – typically by forming convoys and then driving at 10 km an hour to slow things up – are already having an impact on Russians in the cities and more generally; and the slogans they are employing are attracting more attention than many might expect, especially given that the Kremlin is trying to put on lid on these stories.
“Vestnik Civitas” entitles its write up of this story, “The Long Haul Truckers Don’t Want to Feed the Rotenbergs,” and notes that some among Russia’s political opposition are just beginning to pick up on this as a theme, strongly implying that in the coming weeks more are likely to do so (vestnikcivitas.ru/news/3897).
Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia Movement put out a statement yesterday declaring that Moscow was seeking to put the burden for the failures of its own policies on the backs of ordinary citizens, in this case truck drivers.
“Thousands of people are assembling in the most various parts of the country, from Makhachkala to the Far East in order to block the roads. Typically, the authorities call those protesting a fifth column and accuse them of being agents of the State.” But that doesn’t work because these are “the most ordinary Russians” who supported the annexation of Crimea and who overwhelmingly back Putin, according to the polls.
“These are people,” in short the statement says, “who simply engage in difficult work in order to feed their children.”
“But the powers that be need to feed the Rotenbergs. And therefore they are shifting responsibility for their own policies onto the shoulders of ordinary citizens. These are the very people” who allowed Russia’s business elite to profit over the last 15 years and did so by failing to do things important for the people like building highways.
By destroying the long haul truck business in this way, the statement says, Moscow is promoting “the final monopolization of intra-regional markets,” something that it suggests is “yet another step to the destruction of the already shaky unity of our country.”
“Our common goal,” Open Russia says, “is not to allow this, despite different interests and different views on other issues.”