Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Russia’s Regional Governments as Angry about Plato System as Truckers Are

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – Moscow is counting on governments in the regions to control and suppress the long-haul truckers strike, but its confidence that they will do so with alacrity and enthusiasm is almost certainly misplaced because the Plato fee system the truckers are striking against is also hurting them and they would also like to see it replaced.

            That is the conclusion of St. Petersburg journalist Viktor Shavu, who argues in a AfterEmpire portal commentary today that the Plato fee system represents “a triple hit on the regions” and that this fact is one of the reasons why the strike has such “a clearly expressed regional character” (afterempire.info/2017/04/18/platon/).

            The first “hit” on the regional governments is that they would have to deal with the unemployment the full imposition of the Plato system would lead to. Estimates as to the number of drivers who would be unemployed vary widely but are in the tens of thousands, and they hit the regions where the largest number of truckers are striking.

            The second “hit” is that regional governments bear the brunt of popular anger about shortages and rising prices as a result of the strike.  These governments may blame the truckers for these outcomes, but because the central media isn’t defining the situation for them, many residents in particular regions blame the regional governments.

            And the third “hit” the regional governments will have to bear is in terms of money for road construction and repair.  Under the pre-Plato system, the regional governments collected and controlled far more of the fees that came from the drivers and went into roads than they will under “Plato” which allows Putin friends to collect fees and Moscow to decide who gets what.

            In fact, while a great deal of attention has been paid to driver complaints that each of them will have to pay 200,000 to 300,000 rubles annually under the Plato system, the regions will lose about 30,000 rubles a year from each of them in fees that they will no longer be able to collect. 

            That may seem like a small price for the regions to pay, but in fact, it is a large one not only because of its size but also because with all the fees now going to Moscow rather than to regional governments, the central Russian government will call even more of the shots on road construction issues, likely limiting highway work to the regional capitals.

            For all of these reasons, many regional governments aren’t enthusiastic about the Plato system, the way it has been imposed, and the costs they will have to pay if it is in fact enforced. Consequently, with the exception of regional heads who are completely dependent on the Kremlin, few of them are likely to be enthusiastic enforces of a crackdown against the truckers.

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