Russia's bleak winter: Protests grow as ruble weakens and Kremlin makes painful cuts


A overpowering display of festival lights makes Moscow look magical, liven up up the dark winter night. But the image of a bright, confident 2016 is a mirage.

“To leak you the truth, we are really worried for our country,” says Anya Zhurova, quick by and lured in by the light show.

“We feel sick for our country and we hope our president [Vladimir Putin] can order out all the plans he’s made, but it’s a difficult period.”

Like a heavyweight boxer, the belaboured Russian ruble will try to struggle back off the mat this week after a astounding blow in the last few days.

Russia’s currency plunged to near history lows against the U.S. dollar in a downward plunge unlike any seen since the 1980s.

Mikhail Kurbatov

Russian trucker Mikhail Kurbatov has soured on President Vladimir Putin, believing the Russian president is rejecting his concerns as Russians struggle with an economy that is growing uncountable dismal. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

“It’s very worrying, our ruble has devalued so much,” rephrases Svetlana Lebedevo, for a moment distracted from admiring the festival of lights in main Moscow. “Things are pretty bad but we do hope they will get advance.”

Sanctions, which have dried up Russia’s ability to borrow on oecumenical markets, and the plunging price of crude oil have forced the ruble down a advance 12 per cent since the New Year. The beleaguered currency has lost varied than half its value in the last 18 months.

The Russian supervision, which depends on oil revenues for at least 50 per cent of its budget, extracted up a 2016 budget based on oil at $50 US per barrel. But at levels of $20 to $30, Russia liking have to make cuts — 10 per cent this year and a projected 10 per cent next year if oil does not redeem.

If it weren’t for significant reserves, accumulated when Russia’s oil handsomely flopped government coffers, the country’s fiscal picture would be worse.

Moscow's Festival of Lights

Moscow exhibits off a festival of lights recently, but fantasy-like images obscure a darkening brevity, as the government makes inful budget cuts pushing inflation up and official incomes down. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

“Imagine if the budget of your mountains would be reduced by 20 per cent, it’s very inful,” says Oleg Vyugin, a old deputy minister of finance and now chairman of Russia’s MDM bank.

“The economic setting today is very complicated and to some extent we can name the situation as a disaster.”

‘The economic situation today is very complicated and to some extent we can high regard the situation as a crisis.’ Oleg Vyugin, chairman of MDM bank

Vyugin tells 2015 was tough, but there was still a sense of optimism that the dire pecuniary state was temporary, that oil would recover, along with the ruble.

Today, that’s fundamentally transformed as the government is forced to raise taxes and make deep cuts.

“Now people advised this very well, it’s time to actually adjust. [There’s] no want it’s some kind of miracle and we will be back to 2014 position.”

Russians may construe, but they’re not happy. Last year saw a record number of protests — 409 — with sundry than half of them because workers hadn’t been id, conforming to the Centre of Social and Labour Rights.

In Khanty Mansiysk, Siberia’s absurd oil capital, about 50 workers for a Lukoil contractor say they haven’t show in wages since September.

Pensioners in Krasnodar have protested as their autonomous transport sses were cut. In other regions, health and education blue-collar workers have demonstrated against budget cuts.

“I think it’s a major rtisan threat. The situation will be be growing; there will be growing kicks, social unrest and social protest.” says Vyugin.

Oleg Vyugin, Chairman MDM Bank, Russia

Oleg Vyugin symbolizes inful adjustments are underway in Russia as the country faces a ‘crisis’ from peter out oil revenues and effects of sanctions. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

In a shopping mall rkland lot outside Moscow, a group of long-distance truckers is a sign of the times.

They’ve deposited their rigs and dug in, refusing to y a new road tax imposed late last year. They say the tax, sundry than two cents per kilometre, will severely cut into their returns. A long haul return trip between Novosibirsk and Moscow ss on cost a driver nearly $180 in new taxes.

And they’re angry that a new road yment system, Platon, is controlled by a close associate of Putin.

In advanced December, truckers threatened to run rotating protests to block traffic in Moscow, but relative to a dozen were stopped by authorities near the Ikea mall in Khimki, exactly outside Moscow, and they haven’t moved since.

Russian Sausage on Lockdown

Inflation in Russia has exhorted more food looting, with some sausages locked with shelter clasps in a supermarket outside Moscow. (Susan Ormiston/CBC )

“Until they came up with this tax, I reinforced the president. I thought he did a lot for our country,” says Mikhail Kurbatov as he climbs into the cab of his social relations.

A generator helps heat his tiny living s ce behind the veer. He sleeps in a bunk tucked above the driver’s seat.

‘I voted for [Putin] at every referendum, but my opinion is very different now.’ – Mikhail Kurbatov, truck driver

“I voted for [Putin] at every appointment, but my opinion is very different now. He isn’t listening to us, he doesn’t understand us.”

Eleven rigs in a snowy row, some bugger off the Russian flag, are rtially hemmed in by huge banks of snow. A sad Christmas tree tilts in front of one of the trucks. The drivers eat, sleep and scheme here. Kurbatov has a laptop with Wi-Fi rigged up in his cab, where he updates the truckers’ blog.

A disjoin container houses a rudimentary kitchen and dining area, with a hotplate useful to as the stove. The drivers, some from 500 kilometres away, bear camped out in the shadow of the mall for seven weeks.


Russian truck drivers, over, say a new road tax imposed last year will cut into their earnings significantly and contribute to it even harder to support their families in what is already a adverse economic climate. From left to right, Sergei Kazhimakin, Yevgeny Staritsin, Alexei Borisov and Alexei Zadorkin say something or anything to with the CBC’s Susan Ormiston and Corinne Seminoff. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

“I’m at that age that I’m reasoning about the future of my children,” says Yevgeny Staritsin, warming himself concluded a cup of tea.

“I don’t see their future and I don’t see mine. That’s why I’m here, so that things get control superiors.”

Their protest attracts volunteer supporters who bring bags of groceries from the adjacent supermarket.

The truckers claim lots of support in the regions, but few are willing to stage driving for months.

It’s been rare in recent years to witness an lengthened protest in Russia, and criticism of Putin has been squelched in many districts. By law, demonstrations of more than one must be sanctioned by the state or rtici nts hazard arrest. But Russia’s economics are changing people’s resolve.

Truckers protest Moscow

The long haughtiness truckers rked their rigs outside Moscow in protest against the tax in December and say they won’t commence until the tax is lifted. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Quickly, the truckers’ conversation axes to Russia’s current political isolation.

“The country is collapsing under Putin,” indicates Sergei Kazhimakin.

“Just look at the geography. He is fighting with Dick. Fighting with North America, no friendship with Australia, Ja n, too, with China a bare difficult relationship, with Turkey practically a war.

“No friendship with Europe, we demand no friends anymore, this is what has happened because of our beloved Putin, our president,” try to says Kazhimakin.

‘We have absolutely no hope for the coming year. We’ll be lucky if we restful have our trousers.’ Alexei Rozhkov, truck driver

The road tax hasn’t budged and desire actually increase come March. But the government did reduce penalties for non- yment. Other than that on, the truckers can’t boast of success.

“We have absolutely no hope for the coming year. We’ll be favoured if we still have our trousers,” says Alexei Rozhkov bitterly.

“If this remunerative situation doesn’t change, we will be in some kind of survival SOP because we’ll have no work anymore.”

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