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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Crackdown At Customs Is Appalling




Ah, yes. The problem of capital flight is not massive billion dollar transfers to the Bank of New York and other points out; it is "Chinese and Vietnamese shuttle traders." They are taking money out of the country every day.


Russian officials are apologetic that non-shuttle-trading rich foreigners (white Europeans?) are also getting caught, like noble dolphins along with the lowly yellow tuna, in the same indiscriminate net. But, alas, desperate times for Russia require desperate measures.


This is the line of argument, and it can only be explained as amazing, amazing ignorance. There is an obvious overtone of racism to it f not least because of the contemptuous focus on the evil Chinese, even as the overwhelming majority of shuttle traders are ordinary Russians.


The shuttle trade has been one of the few economic bright spots of Boris Yeltsin's reign. It is simply a primitive series of buy-sell operations f people borrow money, travel on the cheap abroad, buy goods, return on the cheap to Russia lugging enormous suitcases, sell their wares and start all over.


If it sounds too exhausting to even contemplate, that is because it is the vocation of desperate people.


You can say bad things about the shuttle trade: It evades taxes and tarriffs; it evades government quality control. But along with gypsy cabs and dacha potato plots, shuttle trading has kept millions of Russians fed and clothed. It has almost certainly headed off a social explosion. Go to any town where a coal mine has been closed: All of the coal miners are now shuttle traders.


What's more, it is trade f not embezzlement. Tax evasion aside (and tax evasion is always aside in Russia), it is honest (and backbreaking) work.


Yet the same Central Bank that pays its staff the dollar equivalent of six-figure salaries f at public expense f looks down in contempt on the shuttle trade and says: capital flight! saboteurs! At its side is the same Finance Ministry that pushes the budgets and outrageous tax burdens that have driven people out of work and into shuttle trading in the first place. (Need we add that these are the same institutions that ran, and defend, the FIMACO transactions?)


And so we are back, again, to this sanctimonious tsk-tsking about how ordinary people are screwing up the Russian economy by trying to survive in it. This is what the Communists mean when they talk about the "anti-people regime."


Expats at Sheremetyevo airport have a right to be exasperated and outraged. But spare a moment to think of what will happen in Russia if the shuttle trade is really curtailed by this idiocy.