Yesterday, July 19, 2012, a sudden attempt was taken to cut down the Oak Grove in Khimki Forest for the Moscow-St.Petersburg toll motorway project. In the morning, loggers with heavy machines started to cut down trees there (100-years-old oaks among them). Destruction of the forest was protected by few men with criminal appearance, presumably private security guards. Trees were also cut down near the mesotrophic bog – another piece of pristine wilderness heavily damaged by the project.

Destruction of the oak grove started just the next day after an official statement from coalition “For the Forests of Moscow District” (which included Greenpeace and WWF together with some Russian NGOs) was submitted to new Governor of Moscow Region, Mr. Sergey Shoygu. The coalition asked the Governor to take urgent measures to spare both the Oak Grove and the mesotrophic bog, and condemned the project as a “bad example” provoking many similar cases in Moscow District. Mr. Shoygu was known for stopping or limiting some other environment-destroying projects in Moscow Region. Nevertheless, many of the Khimki Forest defenders are skeptical about Governor’s ability to influence the project. “There is high-profile lobby behind the project - for example, Putin friend Arkadiy Rotenberg [1], and French giant Vinci are among its active lobbyists” – said Evgenia Chirikova. “I simply don’t believe that a Governor can stop a project where President Medvedev himself was forced to admit his failure to change anything”.

As usual, destruction of the forest was quick - clearly in a hope that activists would be slow to react. Moreover, few weeks earlier, Avtodor (Russian State customer of Vinci) had even distributed information that clearing of the grove was not scheduled for the nearest future – perhaps, in a deliberate attempt to mislead activists. Indeed, the reaction was not quick enough to stop the destruction immediately - but within few hours the loggers were confronted by activists who tried to protect trees themselves, and called both reinforcement and police. Looks like loggers had no documents “legalizing” their activity – so they were forced to retreat from the grove, leaving mutilated trees behind.

“They destroyed many, but it’s far from destroying all. This time we were lucky enough to repel them” – wrote one of the activists, Sergey Ageev, in his Twitter.

After the incident, activists organized another camp (a few kilometers from the first one) to keep the oak grove under constant survey.

The Khimki Forest Oak Grove is the only remaining oak grove within few kilometers from Moscow. The previous one near Odintsovo has been recently destroyed for yet another motorway project. Saint-George’s spring in the heart of the grove is very popular among the local citizens. Perspectives of destruction of this pristine place made the project very unpopular – about 76% of the local citizens support Movement to Defend Khimki Forest, according to public opinion polls.

Movement to Defend Khimki Forest

[1] For more information on Arkady Rotenberg's involvement in the project see the tax heavens scheme realised by his Cyprus-based company together with Vinci SA:

Update - 19-36 Moscow time: destruction of the forest resumed, more security guards called in