On May 9, when Russia celebrated the 65th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany, Russian and foreign troops marched past an open, Soviet-era ZiL limousine parked on Red Square. Inside stood Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, reviewing the passing brass.
Reviewing all this was President Dmitry Medvedev, and he got an idea: what a cool-looking limousine. Why don’t I get one?
It was an especially good idea for several reasons.
One, the Russian car industry was barely surviving, despite several massive transfusions of cash. What better way to support it than by replacing the foreign-made cars in his entourage with the homemade variant? And what a great PR move where luxury is usually imported and where domestic dignitaries drive exclusively foreign cars! And industrial patriotism! And what a great way to deflect the shit flying from the Daimler scandal, wherein Daimler paid big bribes to the Kremlin garage so that it bought Benzes for the President!
So Medvedev issues a presidential order to look into getting him a ZiL limo and, well, so far, so good!
But, well, reality, screeching halt, etc.
Today we find out that the president motoring around town in a Zil limo is damn near impossible, according to Presidential property manager Vladimir Kozhin.
“First of all, if everything was fine with our cars, then this issue wouldn’t even come up,” Kozhin said. “Our administration would have been driving ZiLs and Chaikas and Volgas and Ladas long ago. But everyone knows what state the Russian car industry is in.”
And by that he means the existing ones. ZiL, founded in 1916, made limousines for Soviet leaders but, in 2005, was forced to sell off its main plant to extinguish some massive debts. The plant has since been made into a shopping mall. Last year, the more minor plants pulled together to assemble all of 2,200 ZiL trucks. Getting anything of presidential quality, Kozhin says, would require a completely new model and a dramatic resuscitation of production methods, so, you know, good luck with that.
In the case of Chaikas, the president would have to deal with the jerky initiatives of prior leaders who, in 1988, dismantled the entire Chaika production line — plans, assembly lines, etc. — in a battle with privilege, which sounds a lot like today’s war on corruption.