July 01, 2011

From Khimki to the Duma

THIS SUMMER A FOREST north of Moscow is shaping up to be a battleground for environmental activists and construction workers.

Khimki Forest — a cause celebre for many Russian activists — is located near the Moscow suburb of Khimki, between the capital and Sheremetyevo airport. The forest has been in the news since the first plans to build a new road through the forest triggered opposition in a local newspaper Khimki Pravda. In 2008, the paper’s stocky, energetic editor and activist, Mikhail Beketov, was beaten nearly to death after he voiced opposition to the project. Today he remains an invalid, unable to speak and learning to walk again.

Few doubt that the traffic-clogged road between Moscow and St. Petersburg needs to expand. And in recent years, expansion of Sheremetyevo and construction of new shopping centers along the route have all but turned the ribbon of road into a parking lot. But activists say the new toll road that will make a wide loop through the heart of Khimki Forest is not about traffic abatement, but merely a pretext for developers to snap up cheap public land and line the road with additional warehouses, offices, and supermarkets.

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