Monday, May 1, 2017

Russian Official Reaction to Truckers Strike Raises the Stakes by Making Federalism an Issue Again

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 1 – The most important lessons so far of the long-haul truckers’ strike in 80 regions of the Russian Federation are that regional officials lack the authority to meet the drivers’ demands, that they are so dependent on Moscow that the regions must do what the center orders, and that efforts by regional officials to end the strike will fail.

            The authorities in Daghestan have attracted a great deal of media attention in Moscow because they appear to have ended the strike there by promising to try to address the issues the drivers have raised.  But it has become clear to all that they can do so only “within the limits of their authority” and those are extremely small.

            And Daghestan, an impoverished republic which is heavily subsidized by Moscow, lacks both the resources or the legal authority to address the strikers’ demands.  And that means that Makhachkala will not be able to do much and that the long-haul drivers will soon resume their strike (

            That sets the stage for a new phase of the strike.  Its leaders may decide they have no choice but to direct their anger not at local officials, as Moscow has clearly hoped, but at the center, possibly setting the stage for truck columns to converge on the capital, something the Kremlin will certainly seek to stop by the application of massive force.

            Alternatively, the strike leaders may try to form an alliance with regional political leaders, who may be quite willing to agree to in some cases, supporting the federal subject governments against Moscow by arguing that unless the center gives these governments the authority to act, the center will face a bigger problem.

            Or finally, precisely because of the hyper-centralization of the Putin system, the truckers may link up more closely with all-Russian opposition groups in order to advance their demands in the capital, something that could give new energy to both the long-haul drivers’ actions and the political opposition.

            In any case, as a result of Putin’s destruction of any basis for independent action by the regional governments, the Kremlin leader has taken a protest against the Plato road subsidies and turned it into a dispute about the fundamental arrangements of the Russian state and about the future of federalism in that country.

            Nearly 30 years ago, as he fought to save the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev made some of the same mistakes, failing to recognize that managed decentralization might have saved the situation but the decentralization by demand, which is what happened when he opposed moving in that direction, can have more fateful consequences.


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