Russian truckers protest Moscow’s new fees on roads

Russian truckers protest Putin administration’s new decision to impose fees on all federal highways, blocking roads near nation’s capital

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Russian President Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 3, 2015.

Russian truckers have been blocking roads near the capital Moscow in a protest against the Putin administration’s recent decision to impose high fees on all federal highways.

The protesters have claimed that the system, which is called Platon (an abbreviation for "Pay-per-ton") by the truckers, will cost them dearly almost 10 percent of their respective wages according to media reports.

The Russian trucker drivers' anger over the newly imposed tolls has been compounded by the knowledge that half of the new GPS-based system will be operated by the son of one of the country’s most notorious oligarchs, Arkady Rotenberg.

Rotenberg, who owns Russia’s biggest construction company for gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines, is also a long-standing friend of President Vladimir Putin.

Many protesters think that cronies like Rotenberg are taking advantage of the current Russian economic recession at the expense of the Russia's middle class of the country because they cannot rely on oil revenue in the face of low oil prices worldwide which have had a severe effect on Russia's economy, according to a New York Times report.

"At a time when the pie is shrinking, the clans are trying to keep their portion or even expand it," Nikolai Petrov, who is a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, commented in the interview with the NYT published on Dec. 4.  

"They feel that the government is trying to fix budgetary problems by increasing taxes and taking money out of their pockets," Petrov said.

Extensive sanctions imposed by western countries against Russia, following the widely-opposed annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, have also been hurting the country's economy.

The Russian rate of inflation currently stands at 15 percent as of November 2015 according to the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and Russia's economy has approximately shrunk by 4 percent this year.

In addition, the ruble has lost significant value against the dollar and Russia's foreign reserves have suffered.

However, Putin has called his country’s prospects "difficult but not critical," and said he has also seen "some positive trends" in his latest state of the nation address in Moscow on Dec. 3.

In the same speech Putin condemned Turkey, one of Russia’s leading trading partners, and signaled further sanctions against the country, which is the Russian state-run natural gas company Gazprom’s second largest export market after Germany. The sanctions come after Turkey shot down a Russian jet for violating its airspace near the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24.

Turkey and Russia disagree on how to resolve the Syrian conflict, with Turkey saying Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad must step down while Russia has intervened in Syria to help Assad fight opposition forces. 

Some analysts argue that the ongoing protest by the Russian truckers indicates the unhappiness of the nation’s middle class about the economic direction of the country.

Alexander Auzan, the economics dean at Moscow State University, said, "What we see now, the situation with the truckers, is the first rumble of thunder somewhere far away," speaking on Dozhd television, a Russian independent broadcasting channel.

However, Vladimir Romanov - one of the drivers at the protest - said that that they have no political agenda, speaking to the NYT.

He declared, "We are normal people without political demands. We just don’t want the government to get into our pockets."

Russia is ranked 136 among 177 countries according to the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International in 2014.

During Putin's presidency, the country’s ranking has fallen from 90th place to 136th.

TRTWorld and agencies