The fall of the house of the Romanovs in 1917 may have been a long time coming, but arguably it was finally triggered by bread prices. It would be ironic if another Russian autocrat fell to food, which may help explain why the Kremlin has been moving so decisively to address Russia’s egg crisis, after prices rose by over 40 percent last year.
On Friday, the Investigatory Committee – loosely analogous to an FBI on steroids – ordered an enquiry into potential price fixing, following on the heels of Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov’s decision to launch his own probe. Rather more directly, the much-feared Federal Security Service (FSB) has been instructed to arrest anyone hoarding eggs.
The involvement of the security forces reflects not just a perennial feature of this personalistic and almost medieval system, where everyone wants to prove to the monarch that they are helping fix the problem of the day, but also a very real fear that this may spark a wider political crisis. At the end of December, after all, someone fired pot-shots at the car carrying Gennady Shiryaev, owner of the largest poultry farm in Voronezh region, a couple of days after an investigation was opened into alleged price fixing by his company.
Although Shiryaev has faced controversy in the past – in April last year, he and one of his men allegedly assaulted a fellow farmer and environmental campaigner when he accused him of dumping toxic waste into the Khopyor River – the police very quickly ascribed this incident to ‘locals dissatisfied with the increase in prices’ of his eggs.
A constant concern of the security apparatus is, after all, that their hard work suppressing the political opposition could be undone by economic problems. As a retired FSB officer once put it to me, ‘it’s going to be wage arrears or food shortages that one day may bring Russians out on the streets, and then they will decide if this is a revolution of the left or the right.’