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article imageRussian Khimki Forest Being Cut Down to Make Room for Motorway

By Sara Star     Jul 16, 2010 in Environment
Moscow - Russian environmentalists continue their battle in preventing the destruction of the ancient Khimki Forest Park, where construction of a toll highway commenced on Wednesday.
The Khimki Forest is a legally protected eco-system, home to elk, boars and many types of birds. Many call this area the “Green Lungs” of Moscow.
The new motorway would help with the well-known traffic problem, however many argue that there are other alternatives.
What started as a local dispute is turning into an international scandal, a conflict between Russian authorities and oligarchies on one side and civil society on the other.
According to Moscow Times, a large area has already been destroyed by a French construction company, Vinci Concessions, who is planning to spend $8 billion in development. Activists chased workers away, after a permit could not be produced. “We drove the lumberjacks away, the workers ran away into the forest.” said Yevgeniya Chirikova, head of the In Defense of the Khimki Forest group. She added, “An unknown man drove up in a car, hit me, and then tried to run over me with his jeep. I barely jumped out of the way.”
Mikhail Beketov, a journalist was not so lucky in 2008, when he was beaten so severely that injuries left him brain damaged. He also had a leg amputated.
Khimki has become a symbol of grassroots activism in Russia. The battle started four years ago, when a hiker noticed red paint on the trees. Major organization have since lent their support, such as Greenpeace Russia ,WWF Russia, and the European Green Party..
According to Yevgeniya Chirikova, secrecy has been evident since the beginning, such as an announcement in small print in a local newspaper next to fortune-telling ads.
At first, authorities swiftly rejected the plan. Since then, their job descriptions have changed or their jobs have been deleted. The State Forestry Service was made absolete and a new forestry code was adopted, giving the Agriculture Minister jurisdiction.
Last year, the project was ready and talks with European investors had entered the final stage, but with one glitch. There was no document legalizing the land acquisition, which is in direct contravention of existing legislation.
The European Union pays attention to environmental issues, unlike Russia. If the European investors withdraw due to controversy, so too will two thirds of the finance.
Then-President of Russia, Vladimir Putin violated Article 86, when he converted part of the Sheremtevo Forest Park, near the airport, into transport land. Since then, Article 86 has simply vanished. Last year, Prime Minister Putin signed instructions for parcels of land in the centre of Khimki Forest Park to be transferred to “land for transport“. It is not the first time Putin has chosen industry over environment, evident in the recent Baikal Paper Mill scandal, where the pulp mill continues to pollute the world's largest fresh water lake.
Khimki government say that they will return to the area on Monday at 2 p.m., and will be ready to provide permission documents for cutting the trees down. Until then Chirikova and Khimki supporters maintain a 24-hour vigilance.
The proposed road will bypass the Khimki municipal solid waste landfill - a mountain of rubbish seven stories high.
Russian declared this year to be the Year of France, and France reciprocated naming this to be the Year of Russia.
More about Khimki forest park, Moscow, Petersburg
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