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Khimki road poised to get the go-ahead

( source: )

The battle for Khimki forest seems to have been lost with the controversial highway set to get the green light to slice through the green oasis.

A formal announcement giving the go-ahead to the Moscow-St. Petersburg toll road is expected later on Thursday when Dmitry Medvedev meets French PM Francois Fillon.

Kremlin sources say that this is to be the final decision and the timing, during the French premier’s visit, is significant.

Paris has raised questions over breaches of the agreement between Russia’s transport ministry and road-builders SZKK, which is owned by French firm Vinci.

SZKK and Russian company N-Trans are equal partners in the project to build the highway. N-Trans owners invited Arkady Rotenberg, an old friend of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, to participate in the scheme, Vedomosti reported.

Illegal route

Whatever the officials say and whatever the French say about contracts, doubts still linger.

“The situation is totally unclear and the legal situation has still not been resolved. Continuing with the road totally ignores the laws of the Russian Federation, although those laws are not applied very strictly now,” Ivan Blokov, Greenpeace campaign director, told The Moscow News.

“I do specifically think that now the Moscow mayor has changed there is no reason to construct this road. I do still believe that widening the existing road will be quite enough for the time being…There are several routes for [a new] road which are cheaper and quite appropriate.”

Many had linked the environmentally damaging route through the forest with former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov’s personal interests in the project and the issue became a political football this summer in the run-up to Luzhkov’s sacking.

Flickering hope

Medvedev called a halt to construction at the height of the summer protests, giving some temporary cause for hope to forest campaigners.

As rock musician Yury Shevchuk led a rally of 3,000 protestors in central Moscow, and superstar Bono obliquely referred to the issue during his Moscow gig, there were even hopes for a new era of public consultation in Russian politics.

Medvedev called for a review of the planned route, but today’s announcement would end any hopes for presidential backing for the high-profile cause.

But Blokov still holds out hope as the hours tick by, “We can hardly predict what the president will say. This specially protected forest cannot be destroyed unless there is no alternative route and that is the demand of the law. Here, there are alternative routes,” insists Blokov.

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