Photo: Igor Podgorny, Greenpeace Russia http://gp-russia.livejournal.com/1578586.html
Today, civic activists and representatives of environmental NGOs opened a winter camp in Khimki Forest. The camp is intended to ensure civil society monitoring of further developments of the situation in Khimki Forest, to prevent French Vinci and its Russian partners from further destruction of the forest, including its relic oak grove.
Today, the forest has already been partially destroyed for the construction of a section of the Moscow-St.Petersburg toll motorway, despite the availability of at least 11 alternative options. According to the law, it is prohibited to destroy forests in cases where alternative options are available.
“The problem is that here in Khimki Forest Mr. Putin put himself above the law” said Mr. Aleksey Yaroshenko, the Head of the Forest Programme of Greenpeace Russia at the opening of the winter camp. During the opening ceremony, Greenpeace Russia presented a map of the Moscow District, where about 400 “future Khimki Forests” were marked. Forest land is being captured for toll motorways, luxury cottages, shopping malls and other similar facilities. “If the current trend continues, we shall lose up to 60% of the forest parks around Moscow” – states today’s report by Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org/russia/ru/news/16-11-2011-Khimki-zimnylager/
Today, construction works were stopped in front of the Oak Grove of the Khimki Forest. “Our presence here has been a strong deterring for the forest-destroyer all this time” – said Mrs. Evgenia Chirikova, the Leader of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest. “That’s why we will not leave Khimki Forest”.
Today, the first winter frosts have turned the destroyed part of the beautiful forest into an icy desert of broken trees, heaps of sand and frozen mud.
To withstand the frosts, the activists installed a heated office container and a Native American-style tipi in the camp near the clearing. Khimki Police inspected the camp with visible irritation, but did not evict it.
After the opening of the camp, the activists inspected the forest. No active works were found along the 8 km clearing in the forest. Perhaps the success of the activists and CEE Bankwatch in pushing European banks away from this project has started to take some effect – now that the Russian economy is in decline and not enough financial support is available from Putin’s pocket banks and the State Investment Fund.
The only point where works were still carried out was found outside of Khimki Forest, on the bank of the Moscow-Volga Channel.
According to Pierre-Yves Estrade http://ru.linkedin.com/in/pierreyvesestrade , the General Manager of the project concessionaire NWCC LLC (100% owned by Vinci Concessions Russie), this place was handed to his company for the construction of the bridge http://kommersant.ru/doc/1782998. Since this bridge would inevitably bring the road into the oak grove if built, the activists decided to carry out a public inspection of the construction site. The presence of Vinci added nothing to the usual practice of this project - none of the necessary permits were produced - there was just a bus with riot police instead. This time police did not attack the activists – though they refused the activists' demands to check the permits for the works as well. The activists submitted an official complaint about the illegal works and police inaction - and started a symbolic blockade of the site. The works were thus stopped till the end of the day – but the Vinci staff was still reluctant to produce any permit or establish a dialogue with the activists.
The Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest plans to carry out more actions in the near future.
“The Khimki Forest Defenders have managed to make obvious the legality and lawfulness of their activity, as well as to expose the criminals standing behind this project” – wrote the lawyer of the forest defenders Mr. Dmitry Trunin, the head of the independent NGO Princip. (http://princip1.livejournal.com/24428.html)
“The environmentalists have proven the commercial interests of Mr. Putin’s childhood friend, Mr. Arkady Rotenberg, behind the project http://www.khimkiforest.org/documents/vinci-cover-oligarches-and-tax-havens-russias-first-road-ppp. Because of his involvement the project became a 'sacred cow' - it was allowed to cut down trees and to perform construction works clearly violating the legislation, without obtaining the required permits for building, and it was allowed to beat and detain civic activists as well http://www.khimkiforest.org/news/upt-30-civilian-activists-detained-khimki.
But the forest defenders have proven that everybody is equal before the law. The sub-contractors for the works suffered administrative defeat first (see http://princip1.livejournal.com/18829.html ) and were thus forced to obtain a permit for construction on July 12, 2011 (http://princip1.livejournal.com/16930.html#cutid1) which was then challenged in Ostankino Court in Moscow (http://princip1.livejournal.com/11829.html).
After realizing the unlawfulness of the permit issued, the Ministry of Transportation was forced to issue another one 1.5 months later (http://princip1.livejournal.com/17998.html), reducing the road width twice (i.e. to 15 m). Thus, the loggers’ crime became clear since the width of clearing is more than 100 m. To prosecute this crime, the environmentalists submitted another lawsuit in the Presnya Court in Moscow (http://princip1.livejournal.com/22298.html) .
Moreover, the activists still insist on the analysis and implementation of the alternative options for the motorway (see http://www.khimkiforest.org/documents/independent-expert-examination-moscow-st-petersburg-motorway-15-58-km) , and have challenged thus the construction permit issued on September 1, 2011 too (http://princip1.livejournal.com/19956.html). Quite unexpectedly, the Prosecutors Office of Khimki supported activists’ cause, and protested against the Khimki Police’s refusal to investigate dozens of the activist’s reports about illegal works and beatings. This happened shortly after Koptevo Court in Moscow had completely cleared Evgenia Chirikova of police allegations of “arbitrariness” in her attempts to impede the construction works (http://princip1.livejournal.com/2011/09/20/ ).
Thus, the activists have proven their right to carry out independent environmental monitoring according to Article 68 of the Federal Law - On the protection of environment” .
The Movement to Defend Khimki Forest has been trying to save the old and valuable Khimki Forest since 2007. The toll road Moscow-St.Petersburg should go through the forest, destroying its ecosystem, even though there are alternative routes, proposed by the Russian scientists in cooperation with Greenpeace and WWF. An independent environmental assessment found the current routing “the worst one among 11 alternative options”. The whole project is clearly in favour of the corruption interests of top Russian officials and the French multinational Vinci SA, as shown by Transparency International and the CEE Bankwatch Network.