Prosecutors launch probe into claims by ‘tractor rally’ protesters in south Russia

Participants of the 'tractor rally' protest at the start of their voyage in Krasnodar Region © Проект РЕАЛЬНОСТЬ
Prosecutors in southern Russia’s Krasnodar Region have launched an investigation into claims of illegal land grabs by major holdings. The claims were made by a group of farmers who have begun a tractor rally to Moscow to draw attention to their cause.

A statement posted on the Krasnodar Prosecutors’ Office website says the head of the agency, Leonid Korzhenik – together with the head of the regional administration, Veniamin Kondratyev, and several senior law enforcement officials – held a meeting with a group of farmers who earlier this week announced they were starting a 'tractor rally' to Moscow.

The farmers are seeking to deliver their complaints personally to the country’s top authorities, and said about 100 people in 17 tractors and several cars are taking part in the protest.

At the meeting, the farmers expressed their grievances over a number of major deals in the region in which large land plots ended up being given to major agricultural holdings, including several cases in which the property rights had been awarded by courts.

The protesters also claimed that their rights had been violated by court bailiffs who secured the execution of court rulings and investigators who held preliminary probes that ended in verdicts unfavorable to them.

Prosecutors promised to re-check the farmers’ claims and to establish a special working group that would help to quickly settle similar conflicts in future.

However, some of the farmers were not satisfied by these promises and refused to end their rally. The authorities accused them of launching an unsanctioned protest and briefly detained several of the most active protesters.

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A protest participant, Vasily Melnichenko, said in comments with radio station Moscow Calling that he had advised his fellow demonstrators not to resist the police but instead ask for detailed explanations. “This is sad and silly” Melnichenko said.

The Russian mass media see Melnichenko as one of the main promoters of the tractor protests. He is a director of a large agricultural enterprise known for several strong statements criticizing the state’s attitude to farmers and agriculture in general. He is also a member of the Russian Journalists’ Union and the winner of several prizes for reporting on farmers’ issues.

During the annual Q&A session with the Russian president in April this year, he asked Vladimir Putin why the authorities were closing schools, hospitals and other infrastructure facilities in remote regions. Putin answered that the country was in need of modernization, but promised that the needs of ordinary people would be taken into consideration when the plans for any changes are drawn up.

Vasily Melnichenko, chairman of the agricultural production cooperative Galkinsky. © 
Vladimir Pesnya

Last week, just before the tractor protests started in Krasnodar, Melnichenko was registered as a candidate from the Russian Ecological Party “the Greens” in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Melnichenko’s farm is located in Sverdlovsk Region in the Urals, thousands of kilometers from Krasnodar.

A representative of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, Aleksandr Kurennoy, said that the agency was ready to look into farmers’ complaints. “According to the information that we possess there are grounds for just indignation in this situation. If they have such need and will, we will be expecting their address in the Prosecutor General’s Office. Judging by the fact that the story has reached the federal level, such need exists,” Kurennoy was quoted as saying by Interfax at the Elections-2016 open forum.

We are receiving addresses at this very moment, we are holding conversations with each of the dissatisfied farmers and we are working with their addresses," he added.