Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
–The Non-Hybrid War
–Kashin Explains His âLetter to Leadersâ on âFontanka Officeâ
–TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
–âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Echo Moskvy reports that Russian riot police units have been deployed to prevent truck drivers from joining protests against the imposition of tolls on federal highway users.
According to the report, a convoy of 30 trucks from Nizhny Novgorod and Dagestan set off from Saint Petersburg to join other protesting hauliers at a site in Khimki, outside Moscow.
OMON riot police and traffic enforcers, deployed with three paddy wagons, have blocked off their route.
Photojournalist Anton Belitsky reported that the first OMON troops arrived yesterday evening:
Translation: They’ve closed off traffic on the Moscow Ring Road
Police have not moved on the protest camp itself, in a car park outside a retail park, so far. However IKEA representatives have asked the truckers to vacate the space.
The truckers however intend to stay for at least a week.
The hauliers are protesting against the imposition of new tolls for using federal highways and the Platon automatic payment system, manufactured by Igor Rotenberg, son of President Putin’s close friend and regular recipient of major, inflated state contracts, Arkady Rotenberg.
This evening an Echo Moskvy correspondent in Khimki reported that the police are still not letting any more protesters into the car park. Truckers already at the protest site are only being allowed to depart in the direction of Saint Petersburg.
Members of the Communist Party protested against the Platon system on Suvorov Square in central Moscow today with around 100 people present with a similar protest on Nevsky Prospect in Saint Petersburg.
Interfax reports that other protests are under way in Novosibirsk, with 80 drivers demonstrating on Kalinin Square and another demonstration of around 70 people, organised by the Communist Party, on Lenin Square.
Last night Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, told reporters that the protests were not being discussed within the Presidential Administration.
The state-owned TASS news agency reported:
“We still believe that the topic is not part of the presidential administration’s agenda. It is in the competence of a specialized agency (the Ministry of Transport),” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
He added that certain measures had been taken, in his view, to solve the dispute with the long-haul drivers who are extremely displeased with the new fee.
“I hope that those who are interested in this theme will get answers to their questions,” Peskov said.
But it appears that the Kremlin has begun to spin against the protests, with Putin cheerleader Aleksandr Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves motorcycle club, saying that while the Platon system “may be unfair, the country is now burdened with gigantic waste, therefore we must put up with it and even show heroism.”
Zaldostanov, known as Khirurg (surgeon) said that it was possible that a “second wave of industrialisation” was coming.
Russia’s infamous astro-turfing or troll factories seem to have been in action as well, with various VKontakte users repeating the same anecdote to condemn the protests, comparing them with the EuroMaidan movement:
“The daughter of one of the long-distance truckers that I know is so young but already understands it all: Papa please, don’t do a Maidan. I don’t want it to be like Ukraine!”
Anton Belitsky reported today that ultra-nationalist NOD (National Liberation Movement) activists were condemning the protests by comparing them to EuroMaidan:
Translation: NOD has come out against the long-haul truckers:
Don’t become cannon fodder for a Russian Maidan!
No to a coup d’état! No to Maidan in Russia!
Don’t believe the provocateurs and the instigators!
Remember Ukraine! They were also peaceful protests at the beginning. And then blood and death!”
This evening the transport minister claimed that the hauliers had no economic grounds for protest.
The state-owned RIA Novosti agency reports that the minister, Maksim Sokolov, said:
“They may have other grievances with this system, but there is no economic basis for these protests. Any infrastructure in any country is fee-based.”
— Pierre Vaux