Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Protests in Vladivostok spell trouble for Putin

Russian Jotman reader Sanjuro informs us that protests have erupted in Russia's Far East. The cause of the protests seems innocuous to an outsider: "news of proposed higher import tariffs for used foreign-made cars."

However, as Sanjuro explains, this is a huge issue to residents of the region and the peoples' anger has made Moscow nervous:
Among drivers in Siberia and the Russian Far East, there is . . . deep respect towards the Japan carmaking industry. There's also some sense of camaderie amongst the drivers and people in the tough car transit industry that potentially makes them a formidable political force. These people are not necessarily aggressive, but their business remembers violent times. I have visited Vladivostok in 1998 and 2004, and from I recall, I could also tell there's deeply embedded separatism in the Far East. Usually latent, it becomes apparent in incidents such as this. Vladivostok has been one of the rare politically active cities in Russia with quite turbulent history of new governance.

Both Kommersant and Gazeta.Ru report that unlike in case with the annual march of the dissidents, authorities are apparently taking these protests very seriously. So far the official reaction has been vague, mixed and reserved.
Sanjuro informs us that Japanese cars are a major industry in Siberia:
The used car import and transit industry is the sole major job provider in the Russian Far East. In the Primorsky Kray alone approximately 100,000 people (local parliament's figure) are engaged in importing used Japanese cars and delivering them to buyers across Siberia, reaching the Urals and beyond.
You can read Sanjuro's entire report on the situation -- which includes links to photos -- here.

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