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Unpaid Russian Workers Protest Putin as Economy Continues Freefall

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing protests from unpaid government workers across the largest country in the world. Teachers, autoworkers, and construction workers were among the workers who protested against Putin.

“Dear Putin, V.V.,” the construction workers painted on the roofs of their dormitories. “Four months without pay.”

Workers are owed around 2.9 billion rubles ($56 million) so far this year, which is 15% higher than 2014. However, in 2014, the people remained calm due to an influx of national pride when Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March and constant propaganda that claims “the hardship was an unavoidable price to pay for standing up for Russia’s interest.”

Many of the workers still awaiting their salaries are building a new national space center in Siberia, the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Through the harsh winter, the men “laid concrete and built gigantic hangars for rockets long after salaries stopped being paid in December.” They received media coverage after they wrote their grievances on the roofs and appeared on Putin’s call-in show last week. It is the first time Russian media covered the unpaid workers.

Due to the attention, Putin promised the men they will receive salaries in full, especially since the project is so important. Government investigators simultaneously opened a corruption case against the subcontractors. They allegedly found “the embezzlement of 50.5 million rubles (nearly $1 million) by one of the subcontractors, in addition to the embezzlement of 48 million rubles by a separate subcontractor uncovered earlier.”

Staff at a Russian military base in Tajikistan participated in a protest outside the building due to unpaid wages. Moscow has not paid them in the past six months. The senior commander promised the workers their wages, but the employees are losing faith since they “have heard similar promises many times before.”

The problems with unpaid employees also stem from Russia’s decline in international trade. The Moscow Times reports:

The value of Russia’s international trade fell to $83.3 billion over January and February, according to data published by the Rosstat state statistics agency Monday.

Total imports plummeted $25.7 billion, a fall of 37.6 percent compared to the same period last year, while exports plunged 23.8 percent to $57.6 billion, the data showed. This left Russia with a trade surplus of $31.9 billion — roughly the same amount as in the first two months of 2014.

The price of oil, Russia’s main export, fell drastically in the past few months. Revenue from the product dropped 40% to $22.4 billion. The problems will only continue, as the European Union announced “anti-trust charges against Russia energy giant Gazprom.” The regulators started an investigation in 2012 but pushed it harder once Russia invaded Ukraine last year. They believe Gazprom hindered “competition in Central and Eastern European gas markets, where the company benefits from a dominant position.” If guilty, the EU will fine Gazprom 10% of the company’s profits, which could amount to $100 billion.

“What we’re looking at is whether customers are getting the best prices or if a dominant company is using its remarkable strength to get different prices for different customers,” explained EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “It means quite a lot for a country if it pays more for its gas than maybe it ought to do.”


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