The construction of the Moscow-Petersburg toll motorway as a whole and in particular a 8-km section between Moscow city and its main airport Sheremetyevo is to be implemented by the French company Vinci and its Russian consortium partners. The project is fraught with forest destruction, illegal activities including illegal use of land and forest land conversion, massive violations of civil rights and human rights, corruption, severe beatings and an attempted murder, outrageous threats and assaults on journalists, civil activists, as well as threats to use the police and State Guardianship to take activists’ children from their parents. Moreover, the planning of the construction project, a public-private partnership, has been marked by a highly intransparent and corrupt process, overruling and violating civil society rights as well as public-private partnership guidelines.

The Khimki Forest Park, located between Moscow City and the Sheremetyevo airport, is a protected natural area of about 1600 hectares with very rich wildlife including relic oak groves and natural habitat for elks, boars and other animals. The Khimki forest has existed in its current size since at least the end of XVIII century, and is classed as an old-growth forest. According to Russian Federal laws, Forest Parks are not to be used for anything other than recreation. It is an important natural recreation area for at least a million of people living in the north of Moscow.

The Khimki forest precedent highlights the fact that the Russian government considers forest as the most low-value and useless category of land and that forest protection can be removed in any place of Russia's huge territory at any convenient time. This is very alarming at a time whilst the international community agrees on the importance of protecting forests given their import role in fighting climate change and biodiversity loss.

However, The Khimki forest case is by far not only an important precedent for the Russian forests, but also for the rule of law – the rightful application of existing laws and respect of civil and human rights of Russian people.

No. In fact, the majority of the motorway’s span is located within forest lands, including protective forests. 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 the Klyaz’ma River (at least, 17 km span), as well as through a variety of smaller forests. It must be stressed that the region in question is a densely populated zone around Moscow where huge forest territories have already been cleared for various development projects. It looks like forest lands were deliberately used as the cheapest and easiest way to build the motorway without taking into account sustainability issues. Further sections of the motorway are also planned through the forests, including famous old-growth forests like Zavidovo National Park near Tver or Myasnoy Bor near St. Petersburg.

With the decision to build a highway through the Khimki forest, one of the most important conservation provisions of Russian legislation has been violated. According to the law, conversion of forest in a protection category is only permitted in case there is no possible alternative location for the planned object of significant state importance (see Article 11 of the Federal Law № 172-FZ from 21 December 2004 "On the transfer of land use categories") Since there are 11 possible alternatives for the road construction, the chosen alternative which demands conversion of protected forest was obviously approved against the law. However, due to corruption on all levels, even judicial proceedings did not admit the illegality of the chosen highway option. For more legal aspects, see “Independent Environmental Review of the Moscow – St. Petersburg motorway“, p. 46 ff.

In principle, a new motorway between Moscow and St. Petersburg can be considered as a reasonable solution for the existing transportation problem (though, perhaps, worse than a modern railway). However, the project in its present state has many flaws, both environmental and transportation-related. For example, the project fails to separate local and transit traffic, and the motorway will have extremely poor connection with the existing roads. Moreover, it is difficult to advocate the decision to build a new toll motorway as a first step to solve transportation problems when the existing M10 motorway badly needs modernization. Development of environment-friendly public transportation (which could take the majority of the local traffic) was more or less stopped in the 1970s. See “Independent Environmental Review of the Moscow – St. Petersburg motorway“ for more details, Therefore, project as a whole needs at least serious correction before it can be implemented.

Yes. According to independent experts, there are 11 alternatives to re-route the new motorway without damaging the Khimki forest. The project officially chosen by the Russian government is obviously not the best in terms of minimizing the environmental and social risk. Such a conclusion has been drawn even by the concessionaire’s own expert commission. The unsuitability of the chosen option was also admitted by the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev For more information on alternatives, see “Independent Environmental Review of the Moscow – St. Petersburg motorway“, p. 23 ff.

Simply due to corruption. The involved stakeholders (see below) have a high level of influence in the Russian government and administration, which allows them to act against any law and influence decision making in the process. Local people allege that the Moscow District and Khimki authorities, as well as oligarchs like Polonsky and Prokhorov have an interest in the road going through the forest so that the forest land will be opened up for other construction development. The allegations are backed by official plans of Moscow District Government to transfer the remaining forest lands for development, as well as by a case where a large part of the Khimki Forest’s oak grove adjoining the new motorway was proven to be being put on sale.

No. All initial “public consultations” on the project can be regarded as sheer falsifications. They were carried out on another project (MRAR-Sheremet’yevo-2), without the required announcements in the federal media. In addition, the results of the environmental impact study process were never published.

The public hearing before the announcement in December 2010 to continue the planned routing through the Khimki Forest was of extremely poor quality. Many project opponents, including Greenpeace Russia, were not allowed to speak, no mechanism of taking into account their arguments was implemented, and representatives of the government simply refused to discuss alternative options for the motorway placement. Although an independent expert panel was formed by leading Russian environmental NGOs in accordance with Medvedev’s call to examine the questions, the official conclusion of the review process was announced without even waiting for the independent panel's results.

According to a poll by the Levada Center in September 2010, 76 percent of Khimki residents are against the felling of Khimki Forest. Another poll in August 2010 showed that 67 percent of Muscovites oppose sacrificing the Khimki Forest near Moscow for the construction of the new road.

The above information related only to the Khimki Forest itself. In the case of the Solnechnogorsky District forests, no public consultations seem to have been carried out at all.

Defenders of commercial interests linked to the road construction have resorted to illegal and outrageous methods against civil society activists: The campaign to save the forest has resulted in dozens of beatings and injuries, in arson committed against residents and activists (including their homes and cars), and in a murder attempt. Among these, the most well publicized are the attacks against local journalist Mikhail Beketov (2008), and activist Konstantin Fetisov (2010), both of whom miraculously survived but remain permanently disabled, and the severe beating of journalist Oleg Kashin (2010). One of the leaders of the Movement, Yevgenia Chirikova, was threatened by the State Guardianship and local police that her children could be taken away from her (2010).

Although these cases are not proven to be connected directly with the motorway (though there is little real doubt about it), many attacks, unlawful arrests and human right abuses directly connected with the new motorway appeared when attempts to build the motorway through the forest were made in 2010 and 2011. The chief of the contractor DorInzhStroyProect LLC (formerly Teplotekhnik LLC) publicly admitted that he hired masked thugs to provocate peaceful activists. After this, the thugs (some of them wearing SS insignia on their clothes) together with private security guards attacked activists many times, clearly attempting to push them out of the clearing. Finally, it resulted in severe bodily injures like a broken jaw (Oleg Mel’nikov) , traumatic brain injuries (Alexey Rassolov, Pavel Shekhtmann, Vladimir Morozov, Daniel Beilinson), a broken patella (Dmitry Monakhov) and many other less serious cases. Police repeatedly arrested activists for interfering with the “construction works” despite the contractor’s falure to show permits for the works. Activist Suren Gazaryan was beaten in the police station after he was detained for physically protecting a tree.

So far no investigations have been conducted into the illegal arrests of and assaults against civil activists in Khimki forest.

The project has been examined by Transparency International, who concluded that there are signs of corruption in three areas:

  • Loose interpretation of the law on changing the status of forest land, without clear criteria.
  • The low level of transparency in the project and conflicting information in different official documents.
  • Conflict of interests of Russian transport Minister Igor Levitin (see information on major players below)

In 2008 the North West Concession Company was declared the winner of the tender procedure in which it had been the only qualifying participant, with the Minister of Transport having formerly worked for one of the companies widely reported as standing behind NWCC.

Good question. In fact, it is not possible to find out exactly who are all the players, which is extremely worrying for a public infrastructure project. North-West Concession Company (NWCC), a consortium comprising VINCI Concessions, leader, and Russian partners, signed a 1.5 billion Euros concession contract for the first section of the toll motorway between Moscow and St Petersburg in July 2009 with Avtodor, the grantor.$file/vinci-moscow-petersburg-en.pdf

  • French construction and concession conglomerate Vinci, Europe's leading motorway operator.
  • An unknown French company called Vosstran, owned by French, Lebanese and Syrian nationals. It is unclear what value this company brings to the concession company.
  • Sunstone Holding (Cyprus), owned among others by a friend and judo partner of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - Arkady Rotenberg. This company has the biggest share in the project (50%). However the other owners of the company have been hidden by registering one of the owner-companies in the British Virgin Islands. In the British Virgin Islands company registration documents do not have to contain the individual owners of the company, making it possible to hide ownership from the public.
  • The Russian media often reports that N-Trans is involved. However this is impossible to establish for sure because of the dead end in the company document in the British Virgin Islands.
  • N-Trans is reportedly owned by billionaires Konstantin Nikolaev (General Director), Andrey Filatov (Executive Director), and Nikita Mishin (Executive Director). However N-Trans LLC has a very unclear structure, again ending up in an offshore company – this time in the Bahamas, so this is impossible to prove.

It is worth mentioning that the current Transport Minister Igor Levitin, being a former CEO of N-Trans (when it was known as SeverstalTrans) had the authority to let the consortium win the tender of the highway construction. 1 It is an open secrect that Mr. Levitin has personal interests in the project. Among others, Mr. Levitin was a chairman of the board of directors of the Sheremetyevo International Airport joint stock company when all the decisions were taken. A considerable part of the motorway coincides with the construction of the highway between MRAR (Moscow Ring Auto Road) and Sheremetyevo – which is clearly profitable for the airport.

Officially responsible for the toll roads is the state-owned enterprise Avtodor, established in 2009 to develop a network of high-speed toll highways in Russia. Avtodor is supposed to be the main executor of the Ministry of Transportation’s plans and seeks private investment in concessions, but also receives taxpayer funding. The company attracts investment in the road area in public-private partnerships.

  1. According to experts of the World Bank, the reasons of the low standards of Russian highways and 3-5 times higher maintenance and repair costs than comparable highways in climatically similar regions like Finland, should be sought in the absence of competition in the road industry, diversion of funds and corruption. 

There are two main possible reasons why the companies involved have chosen to build such a complicated structure involving tax havens and tax-privileged jurisdictions (eg. Cyprus). The first reason, as we have seen above, is possibly to hide the final beneficiaries of the project. The second potential reason is tax evasion.

Vinci’s homepage describes the Vinci conglomerate, a French multinational, as the world leader in concessions and construction, employing 190,000 people in about 100 countries, Vinci finances, designs, builds and manages transport systems, public and private buildings, urban developments, water, energy and communication networks.

The Russian Government refuses to change the chosen route for the highway, explaining that in case of any changes huge penalties will need to be paid to Vinci. So, presently, Vinci is the main reason (at least officially!) for not choosing one of the better options. Vinci is clearly aware of its role, since the representatives of the concessionaire were proven to have taken part in the Governmental Commission meeting that took the decision to proceed with the option through the forest in December, 2010.

It seems that one of the reasons, why the review of the routing after Medvedev's halting of the works in summer 2010 resulted in no change to the route, was the fact that the Chairman of the French Chamber of Commerce in Russia, Emmanuel Quidet, intervened and appealed to Medvedev to resume the road construction. As Vinci is the main French company involved in the motorway project, it is safe to assume that it was Vinci that requested this intervention.

Even the Russian President has called the chosen route option the worst possible and has agreed that it was chosen in favour of private commercial interests rather than public ones. Thus, the Vinci company is causing huge damage both to the Russian environment and civil society in Russia.

According to Russian federal law, conversion of forest land in a protected area is illegal if there are alternative sites for the construction, which is the case. Despite this fact, Russian courts acknowledged the land conversion to be legal. This is can only be due to the lack of independence and due to corruption in the court.

„Implementation of our environmental policy is supported by a strong commitment on the part of Group management, the empowerment of all operations employees in our companies and constant dialogue with stakeholders“. Vinci is committed to an environmental policy including environmental risk assessment, precautionary approach to environmental challenges as well as compliance with laws and regulations. Moreover, Vinci is clearly violating its commitment to the UN Global Compact signed in 2003, which contains among other the support and respect of human rights within the group’s sphere of influence, the protection of international law relating to human rights, environmental protection and a anti-corruption commitment to work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.

More than 25,000 people around the world have spoken out against Vinci’s involvement through an online international petition on

The current road project, predicted to be one of the most expensive toll motorways in Europe, is unlikely to prove good value for money for the Russian state budget, as the government may have to make up for the concessionaire's levels of income if traffic levels fall below those expected. Considering that the price of the toll from St. Petersburg to Moscow will reportedly be only a little lower than an aeroplane ticket, it is quite likely that traffic levels will be lower than expected. Several similar motorway PPPs in Europe have been abandoned after it was determined that the deals transferred too little risk to the private partner and guaranteed the concessionaire's income at great expense to taxpayers. Examples include the Trakia highway in Bulgaria and the Horgos-Pozega motorway in Serbia.

The project is violating UNECE good governance principles on PPPs. For example, the “putting people first principle” should be the backbone of a PPP projects and is a paramount to define and consider the public interest. The Russian development bank, Vneshecononombank, together with Sberbank, are securing a syndicated loan, worth 1.05 billion USD for a period of 20 years for the North West Concession company which is partly owned by Vinci. The violation of PPP guidelines must be taken into account by any current and future investors.
UNECE Guidebook on Good Governance in PPPs:

The fact that the project is done under a PPP is also contributing to exacerbating the environmental conflict. If the project had been undertaken in the usual way, it would have been possible to wait until a solution for the route was found before proceeding further, perhaps with some relatively minor compensation to any subcontractors who had already been hired. However, with a 30 year PPP contract set in stone and the NWCC having a contract not only to build the motorway but also to collect tolls from it, delays become a much bigger deal, and the company most likely already has the provisions for compensation written into the contract. It is impossible to tell, however, because the conctract is secret.

In summer 2010, a peaceful camp of Khimki forest defenders was broken up by police, security guards, and hired thugs after logging started in the Khimki forest. In August, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to the construction and the undertaking of an additional evaluation of the project.

In December 2010 a government commission on transport and communications decided to continue the construction of the highway through the forest of Khimki. This decision was endorsed by President Medvedev, but with the condition of a series of compensatory measures, such as planting 500 hectares of forests on other lands.

In April 2011, the works were resumed – though Medvedev’s decision to suspend the works was not even officially cancelled. Subcontractors of Avtodor started to log in parts of the Khimki forest. Civil activists went to the logging sites demanding to see permit documents for logging activities which workers failed to provide, although such permits must be available at the site of work according to Russian legislation. Once again, police backed up private security forces and treated peaceful activists in a very biased and aggressive way.

Activism over the past three years on the part of Khimki residents against the illegal destruction of the forest, solidarity actions and mass protests in July and August 2010 forced the Russian President to suspend construction in August 2010, order a review of the project and hold additional public and expert discussions. The President cited the opinions of environmentalists, political parties and expert circles. Given “such a number of appeals,” he said additional public and expert discussions were necessary. About 60 hectares of the forest had already been logged by that time. Nevertheless, Medvedev endorsed the decision to continue the construction through Khimki forest in December 2010, with the condition of compensatory measures. According to Dmitry Medvedev`s spokeswoman Natalia Timakova, when it was time to choose the route, the Moscow authorities were allegedly guided by the interests of some businessmen who had plans to build shopping centres there.

The compensatory measures for cutting down the Khimki forest consist of spending a billion roubles (around 143 million $) on ecology and planting five times more trees than are cut in the area. The Federal Forestry Agency failed to acquire the land for the compensation in April 2010 in the vicinity of Khimki forest, and offered to put parts of the "compensatory trees" on small plots of vacant land in the city.They also credited as "compensation" plantings in remote areas which burnt down in 2010. After this, the Ministry of Natural Resources proposed "compensatory planting" on non-forested land in the National Park “Losiny Ostrov”, which inevitably will cause tremendous damage to the park, since these natural open areas form a significant part of the biological diversity of the park. Thus, neither any enlargement of the existing protected natural areas nor creation of new ones near Khimki is planned. President Medvedev has not reacted to this. No compensation planting at all was proposed in case of Solnechnogorsky District forests.

It is not being taken into account that compensation for cutting down of old growth natural forest is impossible as its value for climate and biodiversity cannot be replaced by planted forests during the next hundreds of years. Compensatory measures are therefore nothing more than a scam.

So far, 1.5% of the total Khimki forest area has been damaged due to preparation of road construction work. If cutting activities are halted immediately, the Khimki forest ecosystem can survive this damage without significant impacts.

Vinci needs to immediately pull out of the project or refuse to begin construction until the Russian government chooses an alternative route that spares the Khimki Forest and Solnechnogorsky District forests, and addresses the human rights abuses that have occurred.

The Russian government must immediately stop the economically, socially and ecologically unsustainable road project and start immediately with the work to resolve Moscow's transport problems respecting the conclusion of the available independent environmental review.