Moscow region governor to follow fired mayor Luzhkov?

RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin
Following Yury Luzhkov’s dismissal as the capital’s mayor, there is speculation that his colleagues in the Moscow region might also lose their chairs, mainly because of tension over the Khimki Forest and attacks on activists.

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Several hundred protesters gathered in central Moscow on Sunday to demand that those guilty of attacks on Russian journalists and activists are found and brought to justice.

Kommersant daily reporter Oleg Kashin was brutally attacked by two unknown people in downtown Moscow on November 6.

Two days earlier, environmental activist Konstantin Fetisov was attacked by unknown assailants and remains in hospital in critical condition.

Khimkinskaya Pravda editor-in-chief Mikhail Beketov was severely beaten in 2008. Now the 52-year-old is unable to speak and has to use a wheelchair.

The government and investigators vow to find and punish such attackers, but the protesters have already made their verdict, dubbing the situation “a terror against activists” and “political banditry”.Rallies similar to the one in Moscow were also held in St Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Samara and Kaliningrad.

While so far no official conclusions on the attacks have been made, there is something that links the three men. All of them were – one way or another – acting against the controversial construction of the Moscow-St Petersburg highway, through the Khimki Forest north of the capital.

According to the authorities’ plan, the road should go directly through the forest, which is not only a place where locals enjoy walking but is home to wild animals. The idea has been strongly criticized by environmentalists, with protest rallies being held regularly in recent months and scandals hitting the normally quiet town of Khimki. President Dmitry Medvedev suspended work on the route following a public outcry over the project.

The construction of a road through a forest is something that would normally concern environmentalists. But in Russia it has gone further and now the Khimki Forest is a symbol of a political battle for the rights of activists, journalists and for justice in general. Making headlines in the media for several months now, the forest of discord is likely to claim new victims now, though this time it is the authorities who may have to answer for the outrage happening in the town just outside Moscow.

Last weekend, two state channels aired reports on Khimki. The NTV journalists wondered why beating up and even murdering opposition journalists and activists has become, as they claimed, common practice in the town. How come that baseball bat becomes the weightiest argument whenever people voice their discontent?

The journalists appealed to the mayor, Vladimir Strelchenko, for comment. However, he was not very keen on discussing the situation and instead started picking on words. “First of all, there is no such place name as Khimki Forest,” he pointed out.The NTV journalist Gleb Pyanykh’s interview with the mayor looked more like an exchange of biting remarks.The reporter, known for his passion for scandals and intrigues, was asked to leave the office.

With NTV and Channel One both preparing reports on the Khimki head, analysts and the media are now trying to guess what that might mean. Shortly before the former mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov was sacked by President Medvedev “over loss of confidence”, he was also starring on TV screens of the main channels as “the baddie”. So, does it mean that public opinion is now being prepared for yet another top officials’ dismissal?

The fate of another heavyweight – the governor of the Moscow region Boris Gromov – might also be at stake.

“Strelchenko is one of Gromov’s closest allies,” political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told gazeta.ru news outlet. Therefore, he explained, a media campaign against the Khimki mayor also hits the governor of the Moscow Region and becomes “one of the reasons for him to leave the post”.

­Natalia Makarova, RT