• Trucker union says 'March on Moscow' planned for Friday
  • Long distance truck drivers unhappy with new tolling system

Russian truck drivers opposed to new road tolls are planning to drive to Moscow, threatening to paralyze the capital’s clogged highways in a protest that also targets one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies.

Drivers from 15 regions, who protested by slowing traffic outside the capital throughout November, will participate in the “March on Moscow” on Friday to demand the measure’s reversal, Alexander Kotov, head of the Inter-regional Union of Truckers, said by phone. Traffic police in neighboring regions have begun to detain trucks moving toward Moscow, he said.

“The truckers are heading to the Czar,” Kotov said, adding that the new toll threatens to put independent truckers out of business and there is little evidence that the money collected will go toward Russia’s notoriously bad roads.

The protests are the most widespread since an opposition push in 2011 and 2012, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets against what they called fraudulent elections and Putin’s return to the presidency. With a company part-owned by the family of one of the president’s closest allies facing criticism for its role in running the new toll system, the Kremlin is taking the threat seriously. It dispatched Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov to St. Petersburg over the weekend to meet with the disgruntled truckers, although they failed to reach a compromise.

Putin Ally

The Platon toll system began in November to charge truckers by the kilometer for use of the federal highway system. It is run by a company part-owned by Igor Rotenberg, son of Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire ally of Putin’s who has been sanctioned by the U.S. and the European Union. All money collected by Rotenberg’s RT-Invest Transportation Systems is transferred directly to the Federal Highway Fund, according to the company’s press service.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who accuses the Rotenbergs of corruption stemming from their relationship with the president, has written in support of the truckers, calling the Platon system an “ideal example” of the benefits of friendship with Putin.

Moscow was the fourth-most congested city in the world last year, according to TomTom’s annual Traffic Index of congestion. Istanbul commuters faced the worst traffic.

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