Sunday, 29 August 2010

Big business denies protester abuse

While activists for the protection of the Khimki forest tried to draw attention to their cause by meeting U2 frontman Bono, protesters around the world have been targeting the regional offices of Vinci construction group, the company that is partly financing the construction of the highway project supposed to go through the forest.

On August 25, socialist activists picketed Vinci’s regional office in North London. The police were called, but according to Melanie Matthews, head of corporate communications at Vinci Construction UK, no one was arrested. “[Calling the police] is standard procedure,” Matthews said. “But it was very peaceful. Very polite.”

Matthews told The Moscow News that the Vinci head office in Paris issued a statement to the UK office, which says that it is the Russian authorities that are legally in charge of the construction project, not Vinci. Matthews said that Vinci Construction UK was not at liberty to comment on the situation as they are “not involved in the project.”
Vinci’s main office in Paris did not respond to inquiries regarding the protest.

According to, Georgiy Koryashkin, a member of the board of directors of Severo-Zapadnaya Concessional Company, works for Arkady Rotenberg, businessman and Vladimir Putin’s former judo teammate. Severo-Zapadnaya was created by Vinci in 2007 and is in possession of a contract to build a section of the road through Khimki forest. Rotenberg’s representative has stated that Rotenberg has “nothing to do” with construction in Khimki.

Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, has stated that the Prime Minister is “constantly” being updated on the situation in Khimki, but that “everything there is being implemented in strict accordance with the law.”

Among the London protesters’ demands was that “Vinci must break all commercial and other links with OOO Teplotekhnik Company.” Teplotekhnik, a Moscow-based construction company, is responsible for the clearing of the forest in preparation for road construction. The company’s leadership has been accused by environmental activists of employing far-right groups to quash the protest movement against the destruction of the forest.

Teplotekhnik’s press secretary said that the company has no ties to Vinci. “We are the subcontractor for federal state unitary enterprise Dorogi Rossii,” she said.

Teplotekhnik’s corporate website currently features two articles from Moskovskiy Komsomolets, both of them arguing that the Khimki forest protests are politically motivated. “The main defenders of [the Khimki forest] are not ecologists and certainly not residents of Khimki,” says a featured article from August 23.

“We do not respond to provocations,” Teplotekhnik’s press secretary stated when questioned about the company’s possible ties to harassment of the Khimki forest protesters. “And we do not think this is constructive. We have a contract, we’re preparing the territory for construction, and that’s our job.”

On August 7, several Khimki forests activists were attacked by a group of people near the Chistiye Prudi metro station following a picket in defence of the forest.

Although the identities of the attackers have not been established, witnesses claimed that they ran from the scene shouting “Rossiya vpered!” [“Russia, forward!”], an ultranationalist slogan.

The United Russia party, meanwhile, has appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to halt the construction project in the Khimki forest. No official reason for this request has so far been given.

According to RIA Novosti, the Prefect of the North District of Moscow, Oleg Mitvol, has proposed that the construction be re-routed through the Molzhaninsky neighbourhood in the north of the city. Mitvol told RIA that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov is supportive of the idea.

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