ROAR: Moscow Mayor shows his own view on modernization

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has supported the initial idea of constructing a new highway through the Khimki Forest, despite earlier reports that he had approved an alternative route.

Construction work on the escape route from Moscow has been halted by presidential order. Earlier, the ruling United Russia party, headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, had decided to consider the controversial plans again.

In an article published by the government’s Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily, Luzhkov recalls that the decision on the construction of the highway was taken back in 2004 and it became one of the country’s “large-scale and bright projects.”

The deforestation has been practically completed, but the public discussion over the project is in full force, the mayor said. He proposed consideration of “the existing realistic versions of the construction,” and stressed that the current one is not ideal, but it is cheaper and “well-prepared technically.”

“The story of the Khimki Forest and construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg Highway is the most important test for the country’s ability to fulfill modernization,” the mayor said.

“Modernization is always a choice,” Luzhkov stressed. “It is always decisions and priorities. But it will be implemented only if the set goals are achieved; if there are no stops on the way.”

Many observers were surprised by the mayor’s article, as recent reports said the Moscow Government supported an alternative route through Molzhaninovo District on the other side of the forest.

The Molzhaninovo option has not been methodically worked out, Business FM radio said. “It is unclear what should be logged or destroyed, how many houses are there and what compensation should be paid to local people,” it added. However, this option would be more environmentally-friendly, the station said.

“The Khimki Forest story has been one of the most discussed topics in the Russian political life for over a month,” Argumenty i Fakty weekly said. “Almost all leading political figures have spoken on this theme, and now the Moscow mayor’s turn came.”

Luzhkov “has abandoned the plan to construct an alternative route,” the weekly said. However, less than two weeks ago, the head of Moscow’s Northern District, Oleg Mitvol, said City Hall was not against constructing the highway through Molzhaninovo District, it added.

“It was considered so for a long time, but now it turned out that [the mayor] thinks otherwise,” the weekly said. This could mean that the final decision on the construction has already been taken, it noted.

Luzhkov’s article appeared at the moment when President Dmitry Medvedev “has said several times that he is not satisfied with the mayor’s work,” Argumenty i Fakty said. “As political scientists noted, [the president] even did not congratulate him on City Day, which was celebrated in Moscow this weekend.”

Some analysts see Luzhkov’s move as support for the prime minister in implementing the plans to build the highway through the forest. Putin was the highest-ranking state official who on Saturday congratulated Luzhkov on City Day. “The holiday is dear to all who love Moscow, are proud of its rich historic and cultural heritage and who believe in the capital’s glorious future,” Putin said.

Meanwhile, the United Russia party has been continuing to listen to critics of the current highway project. However, it did not formulate its final position, Gazeta.ru online newspaper said. The party intends to pass the materials of public hearings to the Public Chamber and the presidential administration.

“On Monday, United Russia held the second hearings on the Khimki Forest,” the paper said. The previous ones were dominated by supporters of the construction through forest, but this time “opponents of the existing version of the route played the leading role,” the paper said.

However, all members of United Russia who took part in the hearings “spoke exclusively in favor of the current project,” the paper said.

Ecologists made everything possible to persuade the leadership of United Russia not to support the construction through the forest, Kommersant daily said. But the hearings showed that “the party does not have its position on the problem,” it added.

It should be noted that the president ordered work in the forest be stopped and the plans reviewed on the request of United Russia’s leadership, the daily said.

The final hearings will be held on September 16 at the Public Chamber, but it is unclear if the decision will be taken there, the paper noted. It quoted Vyacheslav Glazychev, a member of the Public Chamber, as saying: “We have design expertise on only one project – through the Khimki Forest. We need independent expertise on all realistic projects with the participation of impartial international experts.”

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT