Lev Ponomarev: On the battle over Troitsk forest

3 February 2022

by Lev Ponomarev*, human rights defender, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group (included by the Russian Ministry of Justice in the register of foreign agent media individuals)

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]


While at the international level the question of whether there will be a major war between Russia and the West is being decided, in Russia itself there are clashes between the authorities and the population.

The year 2019 truly became the year of environmental protests in Russia. And this is not at all a story about Greta Tumberg, saving whales, and global warming. In Russia, of course, whales have a hard time, but people have an even harder time – they have to deal with an alliance of the authorities and big business, ready to literally poison the air and water at any moment. This is a real war, with hot spots erupting all over the country. People are fighting against Europe’s largest landfills, barbaric deforestation and development, and the construction of incinerators.

Yesterday we learned about the battle in the northern part of the Troitsk forest. This is not a metaphor. The residents, who have been fighting for over 10 years against a huge construction project in their woods, were literally attacked – there are people injured and taken away in an ambulance. Who attacked them? ‘Young guys’ attacked them.

Here’s the announcement that was sent out over telegram chats:

“Young guys wanted. Recruitment of 50 people in the city of Troitsk. From 02/02 (tomorrow), for about two weeks (8 hours a day). Construction of a government school. Organise admission of equipment to the building site. Local residents don’t allow any work to be done, so they are not to be permitted to interfere with the work. We are on the side of the construction company, the local authorities and law enforcement are also on the side of the construction company. Payment 5 roubles + 1 roubles fare + meals. Shifts are is approximately from 9.00 am to 17.00 and then you are off home. Required height: over 180 cm. Strong build. Age up to 45 years. Wear warm clothes, strictly prohibited camouflage and weapons.”

Were there police? They say there were. And the Rosgvardia was there. But they didn’t stop the attack, suggesting that the beaten local residents “write a statement.

What is the residents’ position? The construction is illegal and cutting down green spaces on the territory of Moscow is prohibited. The authorities of Troitsk, a town which is part of New Moscow, are cutting down a healthy forest of about 10 hectares for construction. They want to build one of the largest schools in Russia, for 2,100 seats, with parking lots and other infrastructure.

And were there any police? They say there were police. And the national guard. But they didn’t stop the attack, they just suggested that the local residents should “write a statement”.

What is the residents’ position? The construction is illegal, it is forbidden to cut down trees on the territory of Moscow. The authorities of Troitsk, a city that is part of New Moscow, are cutting down a healthy forest in an area of about 10 hectares for building. They want to create one of the largest schools in Russia, for 2,100 students at once, with carparks and other infrastructure.

The main problem is that the builders can demonstrate a so-called felling permit. After a thorough examination of the documents by lawyers, it turned out there were no legal grounds for issuing this permit, because there are a number of federal laws (No. 52, No. 7), as well as the Moscow law dated 5 May 1999, No. 17 ‘On the protection of green spaces’.

However, the residents are demanding that this conflict be resolved peacefully and, most importantly, in accordance with the law. The local authorities either respond with a standard note that doesn’t mean anything, or convene meetings with low level officials who don’t decide anything.

In January, technical equipment was taken into the forest. In February, “young guys” were needed.

I have been following this confrontation, unfortunately, only for the second day. Yesterday one of the activists defending the forest was beaten (see, for example, a publication containing the video here) and this morning a journalist was injured, fracturing his skull.

It’s likely that many remember the events at Shies when, after two years of fighting, the northerners managed to stop the construction of a huge landfill for the removal of waste from Moscow. Over the course of those two years, there were attacks by private security companies, and rallies, as well as camps in the forest, and numerous hearings as far as the Supreme Court. It’ll be interesting to see how much time and effort it will take for the inhabitants of Troitsk to defend their forest. Already there are some 15 people constantly on duty in the forest and on weekends it reaches 300.

This story once again shows that the most powerful people in the city of Moscow aren’t actually the officials, but large construction companies. They have enough money to “solve any problem”. And the young guys ready to work for five roubles, plus a rouble for food and travel are their cheapest resource.

* entered by the Ministry of Justice in the register of individuals designated ‘media-foreign agents.’

Translated by Simon Cosgrove and Mercedes Malcomson

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