“The motherland is in danger, we solve everything.” Environmental protests continue in Russia

The construction industry has been one of the most vulnerable to sanctions. In order to prevent the construction complex from collapsing, the authorities help the developers by lowering the environmental standards. This is causing a new wave of environmental protests.

Large industry

In late March, Kommersant reported that 40 percent of developers had frozen at least some of their construction projects. With the opening of new shopping malls and business centers, the situation is even worse: as Western brands have left Russia en masse, the question is whether to occupy existing areas and not to build new ones.

Due to declining living standards, migrant workers are expected to flow back to Central Asia, and Western architectural firms, which have led many projects, have left Russia. Prices have risen for all building materials, many Western brands have left Russia. A particularly acute problem is with repair materials. Some developers, who have promised ready-made apartments to buyers, offer “concrete” in new homes and monetary compensation for lack of repair.

The construction complex – construction sites, factories, logistics structures – provide almost 6 percent of Russia’s GDP and provide 9 percent of jobs. His support is therefore a priority for the authorities. Even during the pandemic, the state subsidized mortgages and this trend continues. The government declares its intention to introduce as many new homes in 2022 as in 2021.

Construction work on the site of the SCC Petersburg building

Due to ecology

In addition to economic injections into the industry, the government is lowering environmental standards for manufacturers and industry. The introduction of new systems for the control of harmful emissions by companies was postponed until 2024. In Moscow, until the end of 2022, the procedure for public hearings was canceled during the agreement on new construction projects. The hearings were advisory in the past, but gave residents the opportunity to mediate for the next public garden, which was given for development.

It is planned to allow the laying of spawning forests (located next to water bodies in which they lay salmon, sturgeon and whitefish eggs). According to Greenpeace, this is about 5 percent of the Russian forest. A moratorium has been imposed on the negative conclusions of the state examination of the project documentation: it is no longer necessary for new construction projects to provide documents on the absence of rare species of animals and plants, especially protected natural areas.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has prepared a series of amendments that weaken the status of specially protected natural areas. Environmentalists have overturned some of these decisions:

Due to the significant changes, the environmental impact assessment will no longer be carried out during the construction of pipelines in specially protected natural areas. In cases where they can be built there at all. Many of the negative provisions of the bill were rejected in the State Duma. At first, they wanted to cancel the environmental impact assessment for almost everything [строительства на природных территориях]. Now, without know-how, it is possible to build transport infrastructure facilities (as before) and pipelines. It can be said that there will be no significant environmental assessment of the pipelines. [Становятся более вероятными] accidents like the one in Norilsk, the destruction of precious natural landscapes, Radio Liberty said Michael KraydlinHead of the Special Protected Areas Program of Greenpeace Russia.

A Greenpeace employee takes a sample of a river near Norilsk to find out the level of pollution

A Greenpeace employee takes a sample of a river near Norilsk to find out the level of pollution

The return of the protest

In 2021, the controversy between residents and authorities and businesses over the issues of a comfortable environment was one of the most massive in Russia. On February 24 this year, the protests stopped: the agenda changed dramatically, everyone was waiting for the turn of events. Predictions of an impending economic collapse were seen by some environmental activists as an opportunity, including the abrupt cessation of all construction work.

The current washes away, the sand kills all life

This did not happen: construction continues, which previously provoked protests from residents, new ones are planned. From the second half of March, the environmental conflicts started again. According to Ecoprotests. The Russian Telegraph Channel and the Activation project, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, residents of Khabarovsk, Ryazan, Volgograd, Novosibirsk, villages of the Baymaksky region took part in street protests, started collecting signatures and participated in other forms of nature protection of their homeland Bashkortostan and region Belgorod, Sarapul, Sterlitamak, Berezovsky (Sverdlovsk region), Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok, Prokopyevsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg.

Radio Liberty has spoken to activists of various environmental initiatives: everyone notes the violation of environmental standards by businesses and authorities – even if those standards have not yet been repealed by law.

Sand and dust

– The most beautiful sunsets in St. Petersburg were on this beach. “In good weather, the whole town came here to rest,” he says Igor Pirogovparticipants in the initiative of the inhabitants of the island of Vasilyevsky against the “Northern Alluvium”.

LSR Construction Corporation, the second largest manufacturer in Russia based in the northern capital, plans to claim, that is, to increase the area of ​​the island by 400 hectares and create a new residential area. The project is profitable because LSR has its own dunes and house prices on Vasilyevsky Island are among the highest in St. Petersburg.

“Dump trucks throw sand, bulldozers block the bay. “Nothing is fenced off – the current washes away, the sand kills all life,” says Pirogov.

He says that the “Southern alluviums” were built in the past, the access to the water in it is done through huge boulders. There is no beach, as it is still typically a construction site. Last year there was a case where a man fell on the sand and was barely saved.

The first school will appear in the southern alluvium only in 2026, on the 20th anniversary of the start of work. For 15-20 thousand inhabitants of the houses built there, there is a kindergarten for 140 places. There are no hospitals or clinics. There are no regular roads and parks: because the “Southern Alluvium” is not yet formally completed, construction work is underway.

Every Sunday, St. Petersburg gathers near the new construction site, organizing actions. However, authorities are still unaware of environmental estimates that such a construction is killing fish and birds in the Gulf of Finland. And the fact that the builders have documents for work on the island Vasilyevsky, but actually started on the neighboring island of Decembrists.

– Construction of a crematorium [в Сарапуле] is planned at the site, which was commissioned by the head of Udmurtia. The site is located 700 meters from residential buildings. According to current standards, the sanitary zone of a crematorium with one oven is only 500 meters away from residential buildings, with two ovens – 1000 meters. This is negligible. In addition, we are witnessing a trend of legislative reduction of safety belts and health protection in favor of companies. Residents do not want to have a crematorium neighborhood, both for ethical and environmental reasons, says Radio Liberty Iya Boronina.

A public figure from Udmurtia, Boronina ran for the State Duma from Yabloko a year ago. Three thousand signatures were collected in Sharapul against the construction of a crematorium next to residential buildings; local Orthodox, Protestants and Islamic clerics opposed the project. The people of Sharapul are trying to organize a local referendum on this issue, challenging in court the refusal to register the initiative group for the referendum.

Forest and violence

– This is a schizophrenic plan, a plan of the lawless: the homeland is in danger, so we cancel public hearings and build natural areas. As the construction industry is one of the flagships of the economy, we allow everything. The construction industry has received a white card and this carte blanche has activated the constructions, – he says Olga Slastouninaactivist of the “In Defense of the Trinity Forest” initiative group.

In January 2022, in Troitsk (New Moscow), they began to build a new school on a forest plot next to the city. The choice of the construction site caused mass dissatisfaction among the residents; in January and February 2022, uncoordinated actions took place with the participation of hundreds of citizens.

According to Troitsk activists, about three dozen locals were beaten when they blocked the forest for two weeks by standing under the sawmill. Not a single criminal case has been opened. The entire metropolitan police then took part: more than eighty Trinity Forest defenders were arrested and taken to different police stations in Moscow – often far from Troitsk, making it more difficult to return home. They were intimidated, fines were imposed, many were arrested.

Now the protests continue: hundreds of trees that had been cut down in the past were recently removed from the construction site without documents. Although, according to the environmental legislation, every transport of cut wood is strictly controlled.

Not far from Troitsk, also in the southwest of Moscow, residents have been protesting for several years against the so-called. “Beautification” of the Bitsevsky Forest Park. The inhabitants want this inner forest of the capital to remain an untouched natural area.

Construction in the forest park

Construction in the forest park

Activist of the Bitsevskaya initiative group Mikhail Silaev told Radio Liberty that trenches are now being dug in the forest park for lighting cables. The excavator’s work is “covered” by a group of strong men, natives of Belarus. They are not a private security company, but are positioned as “activists for improvement”.

Silayev says the protesters tried unsuccessfully to find out if there were any permits for the trenches. Despite addressing the councils of southern and northern Chertanovo to the deputy chief of police of the Moscow Southern Administrative District, this has not yet been done.

– Building arbitrariness is legalized. It is wrong to spend tens of billions of rubles when the state is in a difficult economic situation, for excessive improvement, which the residents are opposed to, says Silayev.

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