Новости Центра социально-трудовых прав


Truck Drivers Converge on Moscow in Protest Against Road Usage Tax

Категория: Новости ЦСТП

Protest is a sign of growing discontent in Russia, which is suffering its first recession since 2009

Dec. 4, 2015 11:50 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Dozens of long-distance truck drivers converged on Moscow on Friday, aiming to block roads and cause traffic jams to voice a protest against a new tax on road usage.

The truck drivers' protest, a rare countrywide protest, is a sign of growing discontent in the country, suffering from its first recession since 2009 amid a drop in oil prices andWestern sanctions. But with President Vladimir Putin's approval rating near all-time highs, few expected the rally would develop into a wide-scale protest movement.

The introduction of the new fee system is the latest sign that Russia's is scrambling for ways to keep its budget afloat as the country is cut off from global capital markets by Western sanctions.
Despite a deep economic crisis, Russia is raising utility tariffs, laying off state workers and considering other revenue-collection schemes.

Some 300 trucks approached Moscow to take part in the rally, said Yuri Bubnov, a 40-year-old truck driver from St. Petersburg who came to the capital this week to coordinate the protest.

Mr. Bubnov's convoy of about 60 trucks and passenger cars was blocked inside a shopping mall parking lot by the police a few miles north of Moscow. But other trucks managed to get on to a ring road around Moscow, causing unusually heavy traffic jams.

Late last month, truck drivers joined a wave of protest across Russia, from southern region of Dagestan to the country's Far East, calling for a new fee system called Platon to be scrapped. Drivers were particularly incensed that Platon's operator—RT-Invest Transport Systems—is controlled by Igor Rotenberg, son of tycoon Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime ally of Mr. Putin.

In a concession to the protesting drivers, the Duma, the country's lower house of parliament, later Friday voted to lower the fine for drivers who don't pay the fee, from half a million rubles ($7,400) to five thousand rubles.

Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr. Putin was aware of the issue. But, Mr. Peskov said Thursday, Mr. Putin's connection to Mr. Rotenberg played no role in letting the younger Mr.
Rotenberg take control of Platon.

The Platon website says the system is designed to collect about 50 billion rubles ($735.7 million) a year for the state budget from more than 2 million trucks in Russia. Platon's office and the finance ministry weren't immediately available to comment.

The new fee, imposed in mid-November, will erode incomes of truck drivers who, on average, earn between 30,000 and 50,000 rubles a month. Trucks weighing over 12 tons will have to pay 1.52 rubles a kilometer by the end February and then 3.73 rubles a kilometer from March.

"Our goal is to achieve revocation of fees," Mr. Bubnov said before the Duma's vote. "We ask truckers not to be afraid to take part in the rally. If we are many—we are the power. If we are loners, we'll be run over."

Moscow's police denied that traffic snarls Friday night in Moscow were caused by protesting drivers and said the number of trucks on the ring road was below average.

Road building and transport security has for decades been a sore spot in the country. Russia, which occupies more than an eighth of the Earth's inhabited area, is striving to modernize its road network as most of what it has now was built before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Higher taxes seem to be inevitable for Russia, which collects around half of its budget revenues from exports of commodities, officials and analysts say. Finance MinisterAnton Siluanov said last month that Russia won't be able to cope with falling budget revenues without raising taxes in the next few years. A senior government official, who asked not to be named, agreed that taxes, along with the retirement age, are likely to be raised, but not until the presidential vote scheduled for March 2018.

Denis Volkov, a sociologist at independent pollster Levada Center in Moscow, said that despite some local rallies, he didn't expect wide-scale protest in Russia, where Mr. Putin's approval rating stays close to 90%.

But Pyotr Bizyukov, a chief expert at the Center for Social and Labor Rights in Moscow, said protest activity in Russia hit a seven-year high this year as people rally to defend their livelihood.

"The driver's protest is massive," he said. "There has been no such protest since coal miners' strikes in 1989. The difference with the coal miners' strike is that now there is no dialogue with authorities."


Andrey Ostroukh


Moscow Bureau

Dow Jones Newswires/ The Wall Street Journal

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