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OPEN LETTER to investors of the Moscow-St.Petersburg Motorway Project

ebrr1.jpg European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

World_bank.jpg World Bank

Invest_bank.jpg European Investment Bank

Since your bank is one of possible participants of the Moscow-St.Petersburg Motorway Project (sect. 15-58 km) we need to inform you about the following.

It was on August, 3 2009 when a lawsuit about illegality of ecological expertise on this project was submitted to European Court for Human Rights. Now that lawsuit is awaiting consideration.

Despite it, we got known that on November 5, 2009 Prime Minister Putin has signed Ruling # 1642-r. According to that Ruling, about 150 hectares of the Khimki Forest Park is converted from the forest lands for the construction of commercial motorway Moscow-St.Petersburg. It is the very variant according to which the bulk of the Forest Park territory is broken into two parts by the motorway. According to independent assessments, it is lethal for its ecosystem. The Ruling breaks the actual legislation since Article 11 of Federal Law #172-FZ from 21.12.2004 forbids such a conversion of forest lands for any capital construction if any alternative is available. .

It is officially recognized (in particular, in documents of Russian Ministry for Transportation and Rosavtodor company) that such alternative variants do exist (see, for example, official letter # 01-9/5069 from 27.05.2008 by Vice-Minister of Transportation Mr. Belozerov O.V.), and even the Act of Preliminary Choice of the Motorway Placement (see Ruling №367-Р - http://www.ecmo.ru/problems/road/Dokum/).

Even the simple common sense tells that the placement of the road in that section is possible in the same way as it is planned within Moscow – i.e., in the common transport corridor with the Oktiabrskaya railroad. It is perhaps the straightest way for the road.

We have strong conviction that the current variant of the road placement in the center of the Forest Park (leading to derivation of the road from its direction and therefore increasing its length) was chosen because to corrupted bureaucrats interested in commercial development of the Forest Park lands (http://www.ecmo.ru/news/n-818/).

It is very important that all the decision making process was done completely behind the closed doors. So-called “Public Hearings” were a sheer falsification – without any mention of alternative variants, without any discussion of the environmental impact, without involvement of independent environmental experts (see http://www.izvestia.ru/moscow/article3127787/).
By singing Ruling 1642-r, Mr Putin has ignored the point of view of more than 15,000 Russians and foreigners signed petition for conservation of the Khimki Forest Park and addressed to Mr. Putin himself. He also ignored position of the Moscow State Duma (Parliament of Moscow), his own Ministry for Natural Resources, Department of Natural Resources of Moscow, of various political parties, NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF, Congress of Environmentalist organizations of Russia, Worldwide Russian Council, European Green Party, French Senator, ex-Minister of Ecology of France Mrs. Dominique Voyenet (see http://www.ecmo.ru/problems/road/russia_za_les/).
Ruling1642-r was signed in the very moment when one of the principal possible investors – EBRD – was forced by to admit that the Environmental Impact Assessment in the project was not sufficiently elaborated and started its own procedure for an environmental impact assessment, as well as a study of possible alternative variants of the project. We can easily deduce that decision of Mr. Putin is an attempt to “pave way” for European investors by doing all the “dirty work” himself and ensuring adoption of most environmentally damaging (but most favorable for the state bureaucrats) variant without any further discussion. It is hardly a coincidence that in roughly the same time as the Ruling was signed, Mr. Putin has meeting with representatives of EBRD and other possible investors.
The signing of the Ruling by Mr. Putin is another step in a wrong, resource-based direction of our country’s development. This approach leads to massive use of obsolete “chip and dirty” technologies everywhere including roads’ construction. Indeed, the decision to build the road completely through the forest allows the contractor (French company Vinci) to avoid any modern engineering (an overpass, a tunnel, etc.) and, therefore, to maximize the attractiveness of the project for investors. The predictable “side effect” of such an approach is maximization of the environmental impact.
Destruction, de-facto, of the Khimki Forest Park which is implied by the Ruling is a precedent long awaited by the lobbyists of many others similar projects. The first among them is a so-called CKAD project of a new motorway around Moscow. According to the project, more than 100 square kilometers of woodlands must be converted for transport infrastructure and commercial development. Plans for development of Moscow Region (Ruling of Moscow District Government 517/23 from 11.07.2007) imply unprecedented de-forestation of the Moscow District in the nearest future.
The situation around the Khimki Forest Park must be also considered in a more general scope. During a few last years, one can see gradual but steady destruction of the environment protection system in Russia. The mandatory ecological expertise of projects was cancelled; the Forest Code and Land Code were altered so that the use of protected natural areas for construction works was allowed and extended. Moreover, the control over the protected forests was granted to Ministry for Agriculture which has hardly any positive experience in protecting biodiversity.

In that situation the only force still trying to protect Russian natural areas are the NGOs and informal environmental campaigners. They became a target for centralized and coordinated company of intimidation and bullying from both the authorities and the criminal structures. The situation around the Khimki Forest park is an example. It is the civilian society of Russia that fights for the Khimki Forest Park since 2007. Many times activists of the Save Khimki Forest movement were threatened, they were arrested by local police, and their meetings were denied by authorities. The most known case that was covered by Russian and international media was the killing attempt against the local journalist Mikhail Beketov. That attempt had taken place in November 2008. Since then, Mikhail is permanently placed in a hospital as a heavily disabled person. Despite all this, we, activists of the Save Khimki Forest movement, are strongly committed to our cause until the project is changed or cancelled.

Today, Russian authorities are even ready to implement anti-constitutional legislations in order to stamp environmental movements. Namely, the Russian State Duma started to consider the bill denying public access to environmental information (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2009/11/18/3288536.shtml). It is quite predictable that the bill is backed by Mrs. Komarova who is a PM from the ruling party and a Head of Duma’s committee on environmental policy. According to her public statement, environmental activists must be considered as terrorists since they “prevent regions from developing”. We are known from the Soviet past which steps are often taken in our country after such public statements made on the top level. The Ruling is merely another clear signal that the environmentalists’ point of view can be neglected completely.

After this Ruling, we consider the participation in the project as a direct involvement into destruction of Russian natural heritage that is a significant part of the world’s natural heritage. We have also to mention that any investment to an illegal project is a crime by itself according to Article 3 Part 2 of Russian Law on Investment Activity in Russia.

Moreover, it can be considered as a contribution to establishing of another totalitarian regime in Russia – a regime denying its citizens not only rights to take part in decision-making process, but even to access the necessary information. We kindly ask your bank to suspend any activity linked to the project until Ruling 1642-r is cancelled or suspended.

For the present moment, we consider the following steps as absolutely necessary:

1. Carrying of independent expertise of the projects and its impact on environment and biodiversity;

2. Carrying of independent assessment of alternative variants for the road placement outside the Khimki Forest Park;

3. Summoning of open Public Hearings on the project where results of independent expertise and assessment can be freely considered and discussed.

4. Ruling 1642-r must be cancelled, no other rulings on the land acquisition should be issued until steps 1, 2, 3 are properly done.

We kindly ask you to inform us (and the public opinion as well) whether your Bank is intended to participate in the project if conditions 1,2,3,4 are not fulfilled and existing unlawful variant is enforced.

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