08/31/2010, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Summer fires inspire a new ecological awareness in Kremlin

Medvedev stops plans to build a motorway which included the destruction of the Khimki forest. Victory for movements in defence of nature, who see the event as new gain for civil society.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - "A great victory for civil society, to which others will surely follow because people will start to believe in their own forces". With these words Yevgenia Chirikova - the woman at the head of the movement that fought for years to defend the forest of Khimki, near Moscow, against its destruction to make way for a highway -greets President Dmitry Medvedev's decision to stop all construction . While it is still far too early to speak of any real change ecologist in the Kremlin, the story marks a resounding success for activists who in recent months have faced arrests, threats and assaults.

After growing protests and the unprecedented call by ruling party United Russia - led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - Medvedev has halted work on the notorious Moscow-St Petersburg highway project. Its route, which had included the decimation of the oak woods of Khimki (pictured) - near Sheremetyevo airport - will have to find another location. Even the capital's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, had already expressed the possibility.

Many wonder why United Russia has only now discovered the project faulty, given that it was created several years ago and supported from the outset by the government and the Supreme Court. Greenpeace says it is surprised: "It is impossible to understand how a party of this size did not notice the problem before." Better late than never, claims the environmental NGO.

The Russian President explains on his video blog that "there is nothing unusual" in re-thinking a plan. The fact is that "our people, including representatives of political parties, from the governing party United Russia and other opposition movements, as well as expert circles, believe that additional analysis is needed." Putin has not commented so far on the subject.

Chirikova’s movement of, Ecodefense, suggests that this reconsideration is linked to the "ecological crisis", after the disastrous summer of fire, heat and smog highlighted the inadequacy of authorities and structures in Russia. But perhaps the factor that has contributed most were the protests to save the forest: on August 22 a political protest rally was held in central Moscow, attended by 2 thousand people, despite authorities attempts to deter protesters, banning a musical event. (NA)  

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