Russia’s Protest Armageddon Averted

The barrage of mass protest fired in Russia’s far east ten days ago echoed with a whimper as opponents of the import car tax hike staged actions across Russia. Today’s protests lacked the manpower of the previous ones, and in Vladivostok, the epicenter of the movement, OMON easily dispersed a crowd of around a 500 people. Police detained about 30 100 people among them included protesters, onlookers, journalists, and broadcast footage by REN-TV’s Valentina Troshina. Here’s a BBC video of the zachistka.

The columns of cars which were so successful in paralyzing Vladivostok ten days go also had limited success.  One column of around 40 cars were able to make it to the center of town where the honked their horns.  Another column of about 30 cars jammed Magnitagorsk street, while a third of about 30 cars waved flags as they circled the town center.  No mass traffic disruption seemed to materialize.

In addition to Vladivostok, sparsely attended protests occurred throughout the countryActions in South Sakhalin, Barnaul, Blagoveshchensk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, and Khabarovsk were without incident. Police reported that about 25 people (another source says 150) gathered in legal protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, a number that was completely overshadowed by the 1,500 police and 600 GUVD officers mobilized to contain the actions. About 300 people gathered on Lenin Square in Novosibirsk without incident.

The Vladivostok protests were called hastily, poorly organized and mired in confusion.  According to RIA Novosti, the call for today’s protests came from car enthusiast websites. Auto organizations said that they never called for a protest and weren’t going to participate in it. In fact, Dmitrii Penyaz, the leader of the Society for the Defense of Drivers and provincial Duma rep, urged his supporters to not participate in Sunday’s illegal action claiming that they were the work of opportunists. “Now we clearly see the jobbery of our problem among you–unknown provocateurs encourage mass disorder for the purpose of not solving our painful problems, but for the destabilization of the situation in the region.”

It does appear that opposition parties of all stripes are jumping on the tax protest bandwagon.  For example, in Kaliningrad, the local branches of the KPRF, Patriots of Russia, the Left Front, and the National Bolsheviks used the car protests to agitate against corruption, high fuel costs, and public services.  Most of the protesters, however, carried signs and slogans about the car tax. On Friday, the newly constituted “opposition” force, Solidarity, gave their support to the car tax protesters. In a statement published in Ezhednevnyi zhurnal, they said the tax hike was Putin’s effort to “protect oligarchs close to him, the owners of automakers S. Chemezov (AvtoVaz) and O. Deripaska (AvtoGaz). Such actions have no use except to raise the price of cars and preserve the remaining Russian auto industry.  In fact, in choosing between the 20 million motorists and the oligarchs, Putin chose the latter.” The statement went on to call for officials to drive domestic made cars.

To Solidarity’s and other Russian liberals’ chagrin, the domestic upheaval they’ve all been wishing and waiting for didn’t happen.  And if recent polls are any indication, they won’t happen anytime soon.  Plus if the nightmare scenarios being peddled in relation to the proposed changes to the treason law have any validity, the Kremlin won’t let it happen anyway.

One possible reason for Sunday’s low turnout is that Putin made a preemptive strike. Putin’s move: economic nationalism to feed protestors’ economism.  First, he called on the social sector, police and rescue services to buy domestic cars, saying the government would allocate $450 million to fund. He encouraged state owned companies and large private companies to do the same.  In addition, Russia’s state investment bank is considering giving Russia’s “Big Three” a total of $616 million in loans to help prop up the industry.  Lastly, Putin suggested that next year the government would begin to subsidize loans for individuals to buy domestic cars under $12,500 or less. Whether this will change Russians’ preference for foreign cars is unknown, and probably unlikely.

This is all nice, but wholly ineffective in the long term.  Especially since Russia is now intimately tied to global capitalism.  The current economic crisis has shown that while capital remains uneven, it shockwaves bat all nation’s shores. Remember VVP, as Marx famously wrote, capital batters all “Chinese walls.”  You might as well recognize that Russia’s walls are in the dead center of capital’s cannonade.