Battle for Khimki Forest goes wider - Clearing of Solnechnogorsk forests for Moscow- St.Petersburg toll motorway yields in yet another conflict.
Moscow, June 29-30
Attempts of the perpetrators of the Moscow-St.Petersburg toll motorway project (namely, Avtodor State Company, DorInzhStroyProect LLC, Vytiaz security guards) to clear Solnechnogorsk forests led to clashes with locals and activists – just like it has been in case of the Khimki Forest. About 70 activists and locals inspected illegal clearing not far from Mendeleevo village in Solnechnogorsky district. They found barbaric destruction of old-growth forest in progress, despite Russian road authorities themselves prohibited clearing of forests for roads in spring and summer. Cases of wild animals and birds with their cubs being disturbed by the works were widely reported.
As usual, private security guards from Vytiaz company tried to stop activists by attacking and beating them. Nevertheless, activists managed to stop the works. Local police confirmed that construction workers had no permissions. Unlike the Khimki police, they acted according to legislation - stopped the illegal works, detained one of the workers, and even confiscated chainsaws. It was a rare case in the modern Russia of activists and police acting together to protect the nature.
Unfortunately, lobbyists’ abilities behind the project are too powerful to hope that local police alone could stop it. For example, among the owners of NWCC LLC (the project concessionaire) is a close friend of Putin, one of the richest oligarches in Russia Mr. Arcady Rotenberg. Some of the other shareholders (hidden behind an offshore company at British Virgin Islands) are suspected in close informal relations with acting Minister of Transportation Mr. Igor Levitin. Vinci Concessions (which is yet another shareholder) is also known for its multiple attempts to press Russian government to proceed with the disputed motorway’s routing as soon as possible.
Thus, activists and locals established another camp in the forest near Klyaz’ma river. The forest consists of 150-years-old larches which are to be destroyed by the motorway. Meanwhile, the first camp in Khimki Forest continues its work. On June 30, activists stopped again works in Khimki Forest too.
The Khimki Forest conflict is well-known due to the fierce battle between Russian officials, oligarches and French group Vinci from one side, and environmental and human right communities backed by locals – from the other side. The 8-km section of the new toll motorway which passes through the Khimki Forest is proven to be fatal to the eco-system of this old-growth forest unique for the close vicinity of Moscow.
But the Khimki Forest is, by no mean, the only victim of the weird project. In fact, the majority of the motorway’s span is located within forest lands, including protected areas. The first segment (15 -58 km) of the motorway passes through the Khimki Forest first (8 km span), then – through the protective forests of Solnechnogorsky District, near Klyaz’ma River (at least, 17 km span), as well as through a variety of smaller and less known forests. It must be stressed that the region in question is a densely populated zone around Moscow where huge forest territories has already been cleared for various development projects. Looks like forest lands were deliberately used as a cheapest and easiest way to build the motorway - without taking into account sustainability issues at all. The further sections of the motorway are also planned through the forests, including famous old-growth forests like Zavidovo National Park near Tver , and Myasnoy Bor near St.-Petersburg.
By the way, no public hearings in Solnechnogorsky district were held, and no alternative options for the motorway routing were considered at all.
Evgenia Chirikova, one of the leaders of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest, is sure that activists from Mendeleevo and Solnechnogorsk will follow her example. “I have seen them in work today, they are very well-organized and active. I’m sure Elena Murashkina and Mikhail Vasiliev [local activists] will be able to stop illegal clering near Mendeleevo” – told Evgenia after the action in Solnechnogorsk forests.