Russia: Motorway construction through Khimkinsky forest halted
Struggle to save environment and for democratic rights continues
ON 7 August, Russian CWI activist, Igor Yasin, and two other CWI members, were brutally attacked by thugs following a peaceful protest in Moscow over the proposed construction of a major new road through Khimkinsky forest, part of Moscow's green belt. French based multinational, Vinci, was awarded the one billion euro contract for the new road project.
On 26 August, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced the suspension of the road building. This decision was made for a variety of reasons. However, the protests organised by CWI members and supporters internationally - including pickets of Russian embassies and protests at Vinci offices around the world - undoubtedly had an effect on the Russian authorities and shows the importance of such solidarity actions.
MEDVEDEV'S DECISION undoubtedly marks a retreat forced on him by those who have actively campaigned against the destruction of this part of Moscow's now critical green belt. The government's retreat is our success; it is a clear success for the local residents and activists.
Igor Yasin, Moscow
At the same time as the suspension of construction work was announced, it became clear that pressure on anti-fascists and opponents of the regime was being stepped up. Dozens of anti-fascists were rounded up for questioning. Around 260 youth were detained by police in the city of Zhukov, not far from Moscow, for trying to attend an anti-fascist concert.
In Moscow, Lev Ponomorev, one of Russia's best known human rights activists, was arrested at the Moscow concert and sentenced to three days in prison. His crime was to carry a Russian flag down one of Russia's main streets on the day the government had allocated as Flag Day!
Two young anti-fascists, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solovov, are still being held and face charges that could see them imprisoned for several years.
This is in contrast to the lack of police action either against the hired thugs who attacked the forest camp or following the vicious attack against three CWI members in Moscow a few days later. This is despite the fact that that the director of the sub-contracting company involved in the road building appeared to admit to the Russian press that he hired the thugs.
Moscow's Mayor, Yury Luzhkov, is now trying to claim he has always been opposed to building the road through the forest, even though he ordered police action against the protesters.
An alternative route went through the Molzhaninov region of the city. But that proposal was rejected because, according to the press, the project harmed the interests of the 'Inteko' company owned by Luzkhov's wife, Elena Baturina. (Reputedly, the third richest woman in the world, having used her position to win huge building contracts from Moscow city.)
In the current climate of economic instability and with growing protests, international finance institutions, including the European Bank, have not been keen to invest in what is seen as a risky project.
The international campaign of protest which took place over the last couple of weeks has also undermined support for continuing with the road building. In this situation, the authorities had no alternative but to ask for 'time-out', so that passions can calm down, until the financial position improves.
But the fact that the decision to suspend the construction was taken without fully agreeing it with all the leading political figures, indicates that the authorities are no longer able to keep what normally takes place behind closed doors from becoming public.
Those who defended the forest won a victory on 26 August, but we should not give up the struggle. There have already been decisions to suspend this construction before but as things changed, construction has begun anew.
In the past six weeks, activists have been treated to such degrees of repression, pressure and corruption by the bureaucrats and big building sharks that it is difficult to believe that the decision to suspend building will make any difference.
The forest fires in Russia over the summer have demonstrated how the forestry system is in ruins and even the much-praised Ministry of Emergency Situations was unable to stop the fires, secure people and minimise the losses.
Therefore the gesture from above concerning Khimkinsky will not save the health of the environment nor will it assure democratic rights and freedoms. To win those objectives, we need to continue the struggle.