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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protesting Drivers for Hire

The Kremlin finally heeded the demands of a very special group of protesters last week. No, they weren't pensioners. The demonstrations protesting the end of social benefits resulted in arrests and the general indifference of the government, which mumbled something to the effect that next time, "we'll keep it in mind."

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At another recent protest, Beslan residents demanded the resignation of the president of North Ossetia, Alexander Dzasokhov. The authorities sicced the police on them. State Duma deputies declared that the demonstrators in Beslan had become the tools of political forces hostile to the regime.

And don't even get me started about what happened in Karachayevo-Cherkessia. What deal did presidential envoy Dmitry Kozak make with those who occupied the main government building in Cherkessk? He agreed not to prosecute them. What were they accusing the president of Karachayevo-Cherkessia of doing? Merely dividing up some property with a little help from his son-in-law who apparently shot seven people. What were his enemies and the other protesters accused of? They were guilty of the unforgivable: They rose up against the regime's basic instincts.

To make a long story short, wherever protests were spontaneous and whenever they made sense, the Kremlin responded by punishing demonstrators.

Things were very different last Thursday. All across Russia, transportation workers protested in perfect unison, demanding that fuel prices be regulated by the state. Various trade unions organized these demonstrations, unions that have been headed by the same leader since the Soviet era, Viktor Mokhnachev.

And what do you know? Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov greeted the protesters and immediately agreed to their demands. What were these demands, you might ask? Well, naturally, the demonstrators insisted that the state form some kind of new agency that would regulate fuel prices. Unfortunately, the protesting drivers' math was a bit off. Fuel prices have not doubled in the last year, as they claimed, but in the last four years, rising slower than the average inflation rate.

Russia's professional drivers, however, apparently yearn for a new state agency. They are not concerned about the traffic police, though the police, who have finally cast aside all pretense of honesty, are taking a big bite out of transportation companies' profits. Drivers are not worried about special lanes for state officials or the extremely bizarre law on mandatory liability insurance. No, the protesters were unfazed by all the hassles that generally frustrate Russian drivers. The highly disciplined trade unionists wanted one thing: for the state to set up a new agency.

They are not the only ones making unusual demands. After the Beslan tragedy, carefully orchestrated demonstrations featured protesters with signs exclaiming, "Central Bank! Get Russia's Gold Reserves out of U.S. Banks!"

But here's the most amusing aspect of the transportation workers' protests: They began in the Primorye region, where drivers cruised through Vladivostok with banners saying "Oligarchs, Keep Your Hands Out of Drivers' Pockets!" The caravan consisted mostly of tractor trailers. What do these trucks usually bring into Primorye? You guessed it: goods from China. And of course, these goods are often contraband. Contraband is a great moneymaker. Back when Yevgeny Nazdratenko was still governor, private companies moving goods over the border raked in as much as a million dollars per day. Nowadays, the business elite in Primorye think of Governor Sergei Darkin as the big boss in this business. It's hard to believe that Darkin and company can't afford to pay for gas.

I, of course, understand that the newly approved Darkin has likely had some extra expenses of late. It's no small thing to be appointed governor.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.