“Ultimate Fighting in Khimki Forest,” 19 April 2011, Khimki Forest, Moscow Region. Video by Oleg Kozyrev, special for Echo of Moscow Radio
Russian Anti-Corruption Movement, Backed By 20,000 Worldwide, Demands Major EU Corporation Pull Out of Illegal Forest Clearing
Before its annual shareholders meeting, individuals in 161 countries call on Vinci, one of the EU’s largest corporations, to end its involvement in Moscow-St. Petersburg Highway project until human rights abuses and environmental destruction are addressed.
27 April 2011 — Russian activists leading one of their country’s biggest protest movements in years are accusing Vinci, a Paris-based global construction firm, of complicity with human rights abuses and corruption perpetuated by government officials.
More than 20,000 people from 161 countries have signed their petition, started on the online social action platform Change.org, to denounce Vinci’s involvement in the toll highway project through Khimki Forest. Supporters plan to present the petition at Vinci’s annual shareholders meeting in Paris on May 2. They are asking Vinci to end its involvement in the project, unless Russian officials will reconsider several available alternative routes that go through industrial areas and would spare the legally protected forest land.
Police arrested and temporarily imprisoned 11 members of the Save Khimki Forest Movement last week as they peacefully protested ongoing illegal clearing in Khimki. Four days later security officers beat and robbed a local journalist on the scene. The ancient forest in the outskirts of Moscow is the site of an unlikely four-year battle to stop construction of a €1 billion toll highway through this forest.
Vinci, the only foreign firm involved in the concession deal to build the highway, is party to a new agreement that could allow construction of the controversial Khimki segment to proceed within weeks or even days.
The Save Khimki Forest Movement’s campaign has, in just one month, become one of the most popular global petitions on Change.org and has garnered additional support from Avaaz, the largest activism community in the world, as well a number of civil society organizations throughout Europe. This week, protest actions are being held by supporters around the world, including in Moscow, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Bremen, Prague, Mexico City, Klin, and Khimki, before Vinci’s shareholders meeting.
So far, Vinci has washed its hands of responsibility for the litany of documented abuses surrounding the project. In just one example, two journalists who exposed the corrupt officials involved were beaten badly in 2008 and 2010; one, Mikhail Beketov, is today in a wheelchair and unable to speak.
“We are asking Vinci to demand President Medvedev spare the forest and seriously address the abuses that have occurred. There are many alternative routes available. By doing nothing, Vinci will destroy a more than 200-year-old forest against the will of the Russian people,”said Khimki resident Yevgenia Chirikova, the leading figure of the movement. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden personally awarded her a “Woman of Courage” award in his visit to Russia this year.
“Sixty six percent of Russian citizens are against the project. But no one hears them. Vinci is also supporting outrageous corruption among our government officials that led to this selected route,” said Yaroslav Nikitenko, one of the leading activists.
Their work to save Khimki Forest gained national momentum as it became symbolic of larger issues of corruption, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in Russia. Last summer, about 5,000 protesters demonstrated in Moscow, spurring President Medvedev to halt the project until he approved it again in December.
French MEP Michèle Rivasi, a member of Green-EFA Group, also called on Vinci to take action this week. “The battle for Khimki forest in Russia is a symbol for the green movement. Russian activists are not only fighting to protect their forest and their environment, they are also fighting against corruption, censorship, violation of laws and human rights, oppression against civil society… Since the beginning, this project has been done without any real public participation, what is going against essential and basic rules of democracy. The Green-EFA group in the European Parliament has supported them since the beginning, and it’s particularly shocking to see a French company – Vinci – participating to this harmful project. I ask Russian authorities to stop violence against activists and Vinci to withdraw from this project,” she said.
Vinci is holding its annual shareholders meeting in Paris on May 2, and this effort is timed as a last-ditch appeal to the corporation to take a stand before the old-growth Khimki Forest—an area ecologists say is crucial to the environmental health of Moscow—is lost forever.
Save Khimki Forest Movement (MOSCOW): Yaroslav Nikitenko
+7-916-743-3759, firstname.lastname@example.org, (Russian, English)
Save Khimki Forest Movement (MOSCOW): Yevgenia Chirikova
+7-925-500-8236, email@example.com, (Russian, English)
Change.org (WASHINGTON, D.C.): Jess Leber, Environmental Editor
+1-516-658-9606, firstname.lastname@example.org (English)
Contact for French MEP Michèle Rivasi, Group of the Greens/European
Free Alliance (BRUSSELS):
Contact for Vinci (PARIS):
Tel.: +33-1 47 16 45 39, +33-1 47 16 35 00
“The Police and Its Laws in Khimki Forest,” 23 April 2011, Tolstoy Park, Khimki (Moscow Region). Video by Oleg Kozyrev, special for Echo of Moscow Radio