By Paul Goble
Daghestan is not only the most Islamic and even Islamist place in the Russian Federation. It is also where truckers are the most radical because of the republic’s location next to Azerbaijan and the ability of those who drive long-haul routes to disrupt an important link in Russian foreign trade.
When truckers protested against the Platon system in 2015, more drivers from Daghestan took part than did those in any other region. And now that the long-haul drivers are again protesting, that North Caucasus republic is the leading federal subject in that regard, with several thousand trucks already involved.
To prevent the protest from spreading, Moscow has deployed units of the Russian Guard and also OMON forces. According to journalist Anton Chablin of Svobodnaya pressa, the situation is rapidly approaching “a critical point” and it cannot be excluded that there could be bloodshed (svpressa.ru/society/article/169606/).
The truckers’ strike began last Monday when organizers announced that they would not move cargo until their demands were met. The Russian authorities sent in the troops mid-week. As a result, the truckers haven’t been able to move from their main bases in Manas, Kizilyurt, Kizlyar and Khasavyurt to the republic capital of Makachkala.
Daghestani officials have called on the truckers to negotiate, something the truckers say they are willing to do as long as the talks are fully covered by television. But they appear to be becoming increasingly radical with some drivers apparently even talking about themselves becoming a kind of “Long-Haul Peoples’ Republic.”
Among the drivers’ demands now are the following: “lowering the number of weigh stations on Russian roads, cutting taxes on licenses and fuel, and increasing the term of permission for carrying international cargo.” Making concessions on such things would appear to be relatively easy, but the authorities clearly don’t want to appear to be responding to pressure.
Sergey Vladimirov, head of the United Carriers of Russia, has appealed to all political forces and rights organizations in Russia not to allow “mass bloodletting in Manas.” According to Chablin, such a turn of events is “improbable” but given the situation today can’t be “excluded” altogether.
Some opposition politicians may be increasing that risk. Gennady Gudkov, a former Duma deputy of the Just Russia Party, sent a message to the truckers stating among other things that “a systematic crisis in Russia will bring ever more new people into the streets. Will the Russian Guard dare to shoot at unarmed people?!”
And Chablin observes as well that “mass arrests are hardly likely to frighten” the truckers or other groups like market operators who also are protesting in Daghestan.