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Russian long-distance truck drivers continue protests against federal highway levy

November 20, 2015, 18:28 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Donat Sorokin/TASS

MOSCOW, November 20. /TASS/. Continuing large-scale and well-organized protests staged by long-distance truck drivers against a new per km federal levy are forcing authorities to meet hauliers’ halfway. However, despite some concessions, truck drivers’ protests are not abating.

Long-distance truck drivers are protesting against a new system of levies and penalties, which came into effect from November 15. The levy is charged on trucks of more than 12 tons for rides on federal highways to compensate for damage done to the road surface. The penalty for unpaid rides is 450,000 rubles and 1 million rubles for a repeat violation.

The protest actions are gaining momentum: they took place in 24 Russian regions on Thursday. The largest protest actions were held in the North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan. Over 17,000 people protested in the republic on Wednesday, lining up trucks over a distance of 57 kilometers on a roadside.

The Kremlin "is not inclined to exaggerate or excessively dramatize" the situation, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a resolution early this week to ease the conditions of charging the levy on truck drivers. Under the resolution, the government will charge of fee of 1.53 rubles per kilometer of a federal highway until February 29, 2016 and 3.06 rubles until the end of 2018. However, the hauliers consider this concession to be insufficient.

Russia’s Transport Ministry has prepared amendments jointly with State Duma deputies to the Code of Administrative Offences, temporarily releasing heavy-duty truck drivers from penalties and reducing the penalty to 50,000 rubles for an unpaid ride and to 100,000 rubles for a repeat violation.

Experts believe that this type of protest is especially alarming for the authorities.

"This theme has the all-Russian context and the protest movement involves numerically small but consolidated and mobile professional groups," Actual Comments website quoted Director of the Center for Political Studies at the Financial University Pavel Salin as saying.

For these reasons, the current protests are more alarming for the authorities than all the actions held by liberals who limit their protest to the center of Moscow, the expert said.

Member of the Council under the Russian President for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights Nikolai Svanidze agrees that long-distance truck drivers are a numerous social group that can give trouble to the authorities.

"The authorities are not afraid of intelligentsia and liberal opposition because they know that serious radical protests shouldn’t be expected because they are a numerically small group. But long-distance truck drivers may be inclined to take quite radical actions," the expert said.

"The hauliers’ demands have grounds as the fee that the authorities want to collect is a crazy rip-off and the strongest blow on all citizens because this relates to the carriage of food products, medicines and many other things," Director for Development at the Academy of Labor and Social Relations Vera Zakharova told TASS.

"I’m confident that any citizen showing common sense will support hauliers. If a toll road is envisaged, it should have an alternative. Meanwhile, the main road should comply with all the European standards but this is far from always so," she added.

The government has already made partial concessions to truck drivers but it is necessary to further reduce the fee and penalties, the expert said.

"No doubt, more active participation of trade unions, the Federation of Russia’s Independent Trade Unions is needed in this situation. It is necessary to use the mechanisms of trilateral agreements," the expert said.

General Director of the Council for National Strategy Valery Khomyakov reminded of the 1972 events in Chile.

"Salvador Allende was in power and he tried to build Chilean socialism and carried out nationalization but finally drove people to a desperate situation," the expert told TASS.

"Hauliers were the first to demonstrate against him and then this action was supported by other social groups. As a result, Allende was killed and Pinochet came to power," he added.

Long-distance truck drivers are quite well-organized throughout the world, the expert said.

"It is necessary to come to terms and discuss all the details rather than drive people to despair," the expert said.

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