Europe

Khimki forest motorway to be built by Russia

Trees felled in Khimki forest (image: Greenpeace Russia)
Image caption Part of the Khimki forest has already been cut down

The Russian government has announced that a project to build a motorway through the Khimki forest near Moscow will go ahead.

President Dmitry Medvedev put the project on hold this summer after protests about the route for the new Moscow-St Petersburg motorway.

The plan has divided public opinion and several journalists who reported on the row were attacked and badly hurt.

Ecologists say there was no proper public debate on the issue.

Cabinet ministers said the Khimki stretch would be ready by 2014.

The planned multi-lane motorway is meant to run alongside an existing two-lane road between Russia's two main cities.

Campaigners argue the new motorway could easily be re-routed, without damaging the woodland.

The forest has already been partly chopped down.

'All factors considered'

Speaking in St Petersburg, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said a government commission had decided the project should be resumed.

The decision was taken, he said, based on "all factors - including the transport one, the economic, social and legal ones, as well as the time limits for the implementation of the project".

"On the whole, the need to build this road is, in my opinion, supported by everybody," he added.

There would, Mr Ivanov said, be compensation for damage to the natural environment amounting to 4bn roubles (£82m; $130m; 98m euros).

Estimating that 100ha (247 acres) of forest would be cut down during the building of the motorway, he said new forest would be planted on a territory of 500ha by way of compensation, without saying where.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin said the Khimki stretch would be completed by the end of 2013.

Had an alternative route been chosen, he said, the motorway would not be ready until 2017.

'No discussion'

Yaroslav Nikitenko, a campaigner for the preservation of the Khimki forest, called on President Medvedev to overrule the government.

Image caption Mikhail Beketov was left crippled by the attack

"We expect the president to decide who he is siding with: officials or the public," he said, adding that 65% of Russians opposed laying the road through the Khimki forest.

"There was no discussion," Mr Nikitenko added.

Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal opposition party Yabloko, condemned the motorway project as "absolutely unreasonable" and "corrupt".

"There were really good alternative options... but the authorities have once again confirmed that the corrupt way of solving problems is the only one for them," he added.

Last month, a journalist and an ecologist were attacked in assaults which media linked to the Khimki controversy.

Oleg Kashin, a correspondent with Kommersant newspaper, was beaten with an iron bar by two unknown assailants in Moscow on 6 November. Some of his fingers were smashed in the attack.

Two days before that, Khimki opposition activist Konstantin Fetisov had his skull fractured in an assault after being released from a police station where he had been questioned about a protest.

Nearly two years ago, Khimki journalist Mikhail Beketov was nearly beaten to death as he investigated the motorway project.

Left in a wheelchair, Mr Beketov was sued by Khimki mayor Vladimir Strelchenko for defamation and was ordered to pay nominal damages by a court last month.

His conviction was subsequently quashed.

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