Major European bank monitoring organization appeals to Europe to choke financing of highway through Moscow’s Khimki Forest

Publish date: October 11, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG – The Defender of the Khimki Forest got a boost of international support as the executive director of the Central and Eastern European Bankwatch Network, Mark Fodor, issued an appeal to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to refuse funding of the new Moscow-St. Petersburg highway which is slated to run through the ancient oak forest north of Moscow.

The CEE Bankwatch Network is an international non-profit organisation that includes organisations from 11 Central and Eastern European Nations which monitors financial institutions and provides recommendations of constructive alternatives to contentious projects.

CEE Bankwatch’s Fodor, who came to his present position from Amnesty International,  sent a letter this week to Barroso in which he outlined his concerns over the Khimki Forest situation. In August, President Medvedev called for a halt to clear cutting in the Khimki Forest in response to massive protests by environmental groups and Russia and international rock stars, notably U2 front man Bono.

In late September, Russia’s Pubic Chamber – an advisory panel created in 2005 to serve as a liaison between Russia’s civil society and the executive power – held discussions on alternative routes for the highway – known as motorway M10 – but their deliberations were inconclusive.

Fodor’s letter (downloadable to the right) outlined the intense conflict that has been raging for several years between forest defenders and the authorities, and appealed to Barroso to prevent the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Commission cease their deliberations over whether they will help finance in the highway project.

And the conflicts have indeed been intense, reaching back to 2008, when investigative reporter and newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov was severely beaten for his articles on the Khimki Forest felling project, and its lack of appropriate licensing from the state to do so. Beketov is still in hospital.

Intimidation tactics ratcheted up again during the summer when groups of masked youths invaded camps in the forest set up by environmentalists who were there to catalog the damage that was being done.

Fodor’s letter emphasized the request that the EIB not participate in the Khimki project and that the European Commission not issue loan guarantees. Fodor addend that supporting the project would be tantamount to a violation of human rights, which he said was not a rare occurrence in this particular issue.

Fodor wrote that participation in the project would also besmirch the reputations of the EIB and the European Commission.  

The Environment and Rights Centre (ERC) Bellona, Bellona’s St. Petersburg office, also issued a call to European Parliamentarians as well as Russia’s human right ombudsman, Vladimir Lukhin in July.  

“In today’s Russia, you are likely the only person who would listen to both sides of the conflict. Authorities and businesses alike comprehend the importance of your post and the public respects your name and experience,” wrote ERC Bellona Executive Director Nikolai Rybakov to Lukhin.  

The appeals and letters are not falling on deaf ears. French deputy to European Parliament Catherine Grèze not only wrote a letter against the Khimki Project to President Medvedev but also co-authored with Eva Joly, President of the European Parliament Development Committee a strongly worded op-ed piece in the French daily Le Monde.

ERC Bellona contributed to this report.