Staunton, June 19 – Several hundred workers from two Russian naval shipyards in Severodvinsk have added their voices to the protests sweeping the Russian north against Moscow’s plans to dispose of its trash in the region, shouting “Hands of Shiyes,” the site of the largest such dump now planned, and demanding the ouster of the regional governor.
That demand, Atle Staalesen of The Barents Observer says, attracted particular attention because it was broadcast in a ceremony Vladimir Putin reportedly viewed and was posted on several web portals where it has gone viral (thebarentsobserver.com/en/ecology/2019/06/north-russian-naval-town-rallies-against-moscow and tv29.ru/new/index.php/bk-obshchestvo/19160-vladimir-putin-uvidel-trebovanie-rabochikh-sevmasha-o-snyatii-igorya-orlova).
It remains unclear whether Putin saw the banner calling on him to fire the governor and organize a referendum on Moscow’s garbage plans. That was quickly taken down by security officers of the firms involved, and the man who put it up was subject to a heavy fine (novayagazeta.ru/news/2019/06/13/152468-sotrudnika-sevmasha-vyvesivshego-banner-vo-vremya-telemosta-s-putinym-vosstanovili-v-dolzhnosti).
On the one hand, it is no surprise that the workers made such demands. Polls show that residents of the Russian North are almost unanimous in opposing the opening of dumps for Moscow trash there, an attitude that has been behind the massive protests by others in the region (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/moscow-plans-to-send-its-trash-to.html).
But on the other, the willingness of those who work for the defense industry and whose salaries ultimately come from the Russian state budget Moscow and its minions control underscore both how widespread and intense that anger is and the collapse of the usual restraints such state workers feel in going into the streets and making anti-regime demands.
And that development, more than commentaries and the actions of those further removed from the government, sends a message which the Kremlin can ignore at its peril. One such workers cross what has been a red line for them in the past, it is likely they will take other actions and make additional demands in the future.
This protest by defense industry workers is not equivalent to the police going over to the side of the demonstrators, something that is the frequent harbinger of revolution; but it is a step in that direction and bears close watching as many in the Russian Federation now appear to be doing.