Socialists and environmental activists in Russia are campaigning against the construction of a road through the Khimkinskii forest, which is one of the major greenbelt forests near Moscow. Following recent brutal attacks against CWI members in Moscow on 7 August and also against an environmentalist activists’ camp, the CWI in Russia calls on socialists, trade unionists and environmental activists worldwide to take protest action against Vinci Construction. This French based multi-national company is currently the main contractor on this 43 kilometer stretch of the proposed new Moscow St Petersburg highway, a contract worth 1 billion euros.
This road is to be built through the middle of the Khimkinskii forest, which is one of the major greenbelt forests responsible for reducing the carbon dioxide content in Moscow’s already over-polluted air. The decision to build this road through the middle of the forest was taken despite other and cheaper options being available. It is widely believed in Russia that this route has been chosen because there is extra space to build shopping malls and homes for the elite alongside the road, thus, in effect, wiping out the whole forest.
The project has been mired with allegations of corruption concerning figures in the transport ministry. An investigation by Transparency International provided clear documented evidence of corruption in the granting of contracts around this project. It has become a focal point for protests by environmental activists, local residents and political activists. Until the beginning of this week a camp was held by environmentalists in the forest with the aim of preventing the start of the construction.
From the very beginning, Russia’s ruling elite and big business friends have shown their determination to push this project ahead. In 2008, Mikhail Beketov, editor of the Khimki city newspaper ‘Khimkinskaya pravda’, was brutally assaulted and as a result has had several operations. He is still bed ridden. To this day, there has been no effective police investigation into this attack.
This week the scale of the violence has taken a dramatic turn. It was clearly decided to push ahead with the destruction of the forest even though ‘cutting’ permits have not yet been granted and the project finances not secured. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and European Investment Bank are supposed to be financing the project but have cooled to the idea given the growing opposition to the scheme and have not yet signed the necessary documents. At the end of July, participants in the camp and their supporters found themselves facing a group of thugs dressed in masks, who broke up their camp as police looked the other way. Eleven people, including two journalists were injured. Rather than take action against the illegal cutting or masked bandits, the police turned against the protesters. The next day, when a bus load of environmentalist supporters arrived from Moscow, many were arrested to prevent any further protests taking place.
The position was confused by the counter-productive actions of a group of ‘direct action’ anarchists, who decided to launch an attack, throwing rocks and writing graffiti on the building of the Khimki City Administration. Having no direct contact with those fighting the new road or local residents, they gave the authorities the excuse to step up repression. Two well known anti-fascists were arrested and face charges that could lead to 7 years in prison. The police documents are clearly fraudulent, as the police say they were arrested during the attack, when, in fact, one of them even recorded a radio interview some time after. Later, Evgenia Chirikova, leader of the campaign, was arrested.
The violence took a new turn on Saturday, 7 August. A large and successful protest was held in the centre of Moscow demanding an end to the repression of activists opposed to the destruction of the forest. Notwithstanding the fact that the organisers of the protest, a coalition of neo-liberal politicians and left activists tried to make the protest ‘non-political’ (e.g. banning party symbols fetc), amongst the activists the events of the past week have demonstrated that they are not just opposing an irresponsible construction company but also the national government. Nearly two hours after the end on the protest, a group of 15 thugs attacked three members of the CWI, who were setting off for the metro to go home. (see previous reports on www.socialistworld.net).
Vinci claims on its website that it supports sustainable development, good commercial practice and ensures that its companies and sub-contractors promote social responsibility. It claims that it has a responsible attitude to climate change. Although there is no evidence of the involvement of Vinci in this violence, in a meeting with Russian President Medvedev, a company representative reportedly asked Putin to sort out the issue, so that they could start work. Vinci has demonstrated that, at best, it has participated in a ‘tender procedure’ that is highly suspect, to say the least, it has ignored the protests of a growing section of the population at the destruction of Moscow’s green belt, and it is clearly choosing to ignore the use of widescale arrests and thuggery by the state and local contractors to allow the construction to go ahead. The Director of the sub-contractor, OOO ‘Teplotekhnik’, responsible for removing the trees, is A Semchenko, a bishop in the Baptist church (!) and former advisor on religious affairs to Putin. Just this one example demonstrates how close are the links between this multinational company and the Russian state. Some of the pro-government Russian press have even alleged links between A Semchenko and the thug attack on the environmentalists.
Vinci Construction is active in almost every country and has offices in many cities. Look for a major transport construction projects – the refurbishment of Victoria station and the extension of the Docklands light railway, both in London, and at railways, roads and bridges throughout Europe, Latin and North America or the building of the new concrete shield around Chernobyl – and you will find Vinci involvement. Many of these projects are listed on Vinci’s site: http://www.vinci-construction.com/vinci-construction.nsf/en/locations.htm
Following the attempts to destroy the Khimkinskii forest and the thug attacks on the camp and, later, three members of the CWI in Moscow on 7 August, we call on CWI supporters and other activists and supporters internationally to organise protests outside the offices and workplaces of the Vinci company, with the following demands:
- Stop the destruction of Moscow’s green belt – Vinci Construction must immediately withdraw from the contract to build the Moscow St Petersburg road
- Vinci must break all commercial and other links with the OOO ‘Teplotekhnik’ Company
- Vinci must issue a public statement to the Russian and international mass media condemning the use of thuggery and police repression against the environmental camp and members of the CWI. Vinci must call for the police to conduct a full and transparent investigation leading to the arrest of those guilty of the vicious attacks.
- Vinci must open its records concerning the Moscow St Petersburg highway contract to a public enquiry, conducted by the trade unions, environmental groups and other interested parties.