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Russian Truckers Seek To Mount New Protest Despite Jailings, Foreign-Agent Tag


Russian Truckers Launch Strike Over Road Tax
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MOSCOW -- Three months before a presidential election, Russian truck drivers who oppose a road tax are mounting a nationwide protest despite the jailing of two of their leaders and a "foreign agent" designation from the government.

Thirty truck drivers in the Siberian city of Chita started the protest action on December 15, but many of them remained in their garages due to frigid temperatures in the region some 4,700 kilometers east of Moscow.

Truckers have set up protest encampments on the outskirts of Moscow and St. Petersburg, said Maria Pazukhina, a coordinator for the protesting United Truckers of Russia group who is based in the northern city of Murmansk.

Smaller, single-truck protest "pickets" were being held in cities including Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Kirov, Ryazan, and Vologda in European Russia, Pazukhina told RFE/RL, adding that many other truckers were protesting simply by striking.

"The main part of the strike is that people aren't working, they aren't transporting cargo," she said by telephone, adding that the protest action would last 10 days.

Photographs posted on the United Truckers website showed clusters of several trucks, some bearing protest slogans, in a parking lot on the outskirts of Moscow and on the side of St. Petersburg's ring road.

They also depicted small truck protests in the cities Pazukhina named, as well as others including Saratov on the Volga River, Orenburg near the Kazakh border, and Komsomolsk-On-Amur in the Far East.

Since 2015, long-haul drivers from the United Truckers of Russia have been rolling out onto streets and highways periodically to protest the imposition of the Platon road-tax system.

The group says the tax system is overly onerous for drivers and ineffective. It announced in October that members planned to resume the protests on December 15, ahead of the registration of candidates for Russia's March 18 presidential election.

Trucker Leaders Arrested

Two United Truckers leaders, Andrei Bazhutin and Sergei Vladimirov, were detained near St. Petersburg on December 12 and accused of driving without licenses.

Both were ordered jailed for 15 days -- rulings they said were aimed at thwarting the plans for a fresh protest.

Their arrests came after the Justice Ministry designated the group a "foreign agent" under a law Kremlin critics say President Vladimir Putin uses as a tool to silence dissent and suppress opposition.

Photographs shared on the United Truckers of Russia website on December 15 showed clusters of several trucks, some bearing protest slogans, in a parking lot on the outskirts of Moscow and on the side of St. Petersburg's ring road.

Truckers in Chita also said they plan to protest until December 25 and hope that more drivers will join them.

They are protesting against gasoline price hikes in addition to the road tax system.

Platon is managed by company owned by a son of Arkady Rotenberg, a tycoon who was once Putin's judo sparring partner and is seen as a close ally of the president.

Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999, announced on December 6 that would seek a new six-year term in the March 18 election.

His high approval ratings and control over the levers of power make his victory a foregone conclusion.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Tom Balmforth in Moscow and