Moscow (AsiaNews) - While Russia is on fire and the heat wave shows no sign of letting up, another story is forcing authorities to deal with problems related to the environment. It is what the Russian media have already dubbed the " Khimki pogrom”, the forest just outside Moscow which will disappear to make way for a new highway between the capital and St. Petersburg. On July 31, police forcibly cleared the area of tents set up earlier this month by dozens of activists to prevent deforestation work. The clashes continued later Monday, August 2, when about 50 people were arrested, including leader of opposition party Jabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, for organizing an unauthorised in the forest.
The movement in defence of Khimki, Ecodefence was started by Yevgenia Chirikova, a 33 year old former manager and mother of two children. When three years ago she and her husband learned that the forest they had moved to outside Moscow was to be bulldozed to make way for the highway, the woman decided not to stand by and watch. The 150 hectares of Khimki forest are protected by federal law and fall within the Moscow "green belt",it is protected for its wildlife and importance in containing the pollution produced by the capital. In 2004, however, the Ministry for Transport announced a plan to build a new highway with the intention of reducing traffic congestion. While deeming it a "great project", the environmentalists point out that it "would be more logical for the highway to follow the railway line that already connects Moscow and St. Petersburg." Instead, the route approved by the Mayor of Khimki Viktor Shelchenko in 2006, will pass through the forest. Ostensibly to "connect the road to the airport in Moscow, Sheremetyevo”. The activists, however, point out that the company was awarded the contract, Teplotechnik, has also "bought" the right to build to two kilometres left and right of the highway, thus the wide spaces of Khimki are an enticing prize.
The arrogance of local authorities
According to the newspaper Kommersant, the clash between civil society and the local authorities is likely to grow if they decide not to undertake a constructive dialogue. "This is a “regime of local absolutism”, where Moscow authorities are in violation of the law and civil society is forced to play the part of the central government which has failed to intervene," noted the Head of the Institute of globalization and social movements Boris Kagarlinsky.
A campaign dangerous
For some years now violence has become a constant companion in Khimki. Especially against journalists who dared criticize the powerful governor Vladimir Vladimirovich Strelchenko. In November 2008, a local opposition journalist Beketov Mikhail, director of Khimkinskaja Pravda, was beaten on the outskirts of Moscow and hospitalized with serious injuries. Another publication linked to the opposition, Grazhdanskij Forum, has closed after its director was beaten in an ambush. The same Chirikova in 2008, escaped an attacker in motion that tried to be invested.
Meanwhile, despite protests, deforestation work is underway in Khimki and the police have cordoned off the entire area.