Russia and the Environment

Environmental Activism in Russia
Posted by: , December 15, 2011, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Current Events,Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,



During the Soviet period, the public sphere was largely controlled by the state, due to state control of resources.  Autonomous social action was prohibited.  Most public institutions and organizations were overtaken by state-sponsored organizations (youth organizations, party organizations, trade unions).  However, some semi-autonomous public organizations remained in the environmental sphere.  Due to the necessity for unbiased scientific research to create sound policies, natural scientists made up a separate role of “scientific public opinion” in politics.


Generally, Soviet law favored environmental protection, however natural resources were viewed only as fuel for industrialization.  Scientific research was frequently ignored in the development of state projects.  Another element of Soviet environmental policy was that resource use and development were evaluated by output quotas as opposed to measures of efficiency.[1]  By and large, citizens were little aware of environmental issues due to the secret nation of government actions and projects. [3]


Initially, environmental protection movements were centered in the All-Russian Society for Nature Protection (VOOP).  Later, this shifted to the Geographical Society based in Moscow, as well as the Moscow Society of Naturalists (MOIP).  Finally, the movement was based in student movements called Druzhina (student brigades for nature protection), student brigades based out of universities.

Druzhina member

VOOP and MOIP can be characterized as organizations operating semi-autonomously from state control.  However, the Druzhina movement must be characterized as a more grass-roots style organization.  It began as an initiative of MOIP in the 1960s, and by the 1980s included roughly 5000 members.  They worked to establish preserves of land, and conducted environmental inspections and monitoring, as well as anti-poaching campaigns. Other important players included the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and Komsomol.


Following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 (see post on Effects of Chernobyl), Gorbachev’s political reforms allowed public debate and citizen involvement in political reform, as well as allowing citizens to organize groups to address political issues.  This led in a rise in environmentalist activity, including petitioning, and demonstrations.  The halt of construction on many nuclear reactors, hydroelectric power stations and gas pipelines are attributed to these actions.


Environmental activism peaked in the period between 1989 and 1991, massively declining with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Yeltsin administration brought political support to environmentalism, however the disorganization of policymaking, and Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999 prevented any real results.  Under the Putin presidency social organizations were discouraged, while economic activity was encouraged, especially through the extraction of natural resources.  This has created a particularly unfriendly environment for social activism. [1]


Contemporary Activism


Contemporary activism in Russia occurs in three main forms: Civic, or grassroots, sponsorship by other groups, and through labor unions


Collaboration between movements is especially common in Russia, specifically in the role of fascist and anti-fascist groups

associated around right and left-wing political issues respectively. [13] [14]

Antifascist demonstrator


Environmental activism can be categorized into three main types: conservationism, reform environmentalism, and social environmentalism.  Conservationism is argued as the earliest form, and is usually enacted through government reform.  Reform environmentalism is based on scientific and legal approaches, with the purpose of encouraging the state to adopt environmentalist policies, and to hold government and corporate actors responsible for environmental consequences.  This is representative of large NGOs.  Social environmentalism in contrast, is non-institutional.  This type places responsibility for environmental and social issues on both governmental and economic systems.  This type is more representative of populist and grassroots groups. [4]


Environmental groups can be categorized into three groups.


Grassroots Professionalized Government affiliate
Projects *Environmental education and teacher support*Local environmental issues*Eco-spirituality *Biodiversity conservation*NGO support *Environmental enforcement*Biodiversity conservation*Environmental education*Green politics
Tactics *Contact with individuals*Disseminate information*Lobby government *Lobby the government*Disseminate information*Scientific research and monitoring*Cooperate on international projects*Publishing *Use bureaucratic channels*Scientific research and monitoring*Lobby the government*Contact with individuals
Partners *Local educational and cultural institutions *International donors and partners *Government agencies and bureaucrats


Some scholars argue that due to the current political climate, grassroots organizations are unable to lobby government, and that government affiliates do not in fact implement green politics.  Furthermore, that professionalized organizations (such as WWF-Russia, Greenpeace-Russia or the Socio-Ecological Union) are truly grassroots projects run under the umbrella of a professionalized name. [2]

Professional groups have also been established funded with government monies.  For example, Moscow group Ecological International has been established as an international fund for protection of the ozone layer.  However, the Ministry of Defense, and an industrial association support it financially. [3]

Many of the larger organizations for environmental protection are in fact foreign or global.  WWF, Greenpeace, The National Geographic Society, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as international corporations such as Exxon Corporation provide grants for environmental issues.  [3]


Civic activist movements in Russia owe their success to larger political conflicts.  The most successful campaigns have been targeted localized actions that have capitalized on existing conflicts within larger power structures.  In the case of rerouting a pipeline near Lake Baikal, as well as with ongoing protests surrounding the Khimki forest, grassroots organization and mass mobilization has been coupled with support from elite groups.  As well as political repression, the political apathy and distrust of citizens is cited as the primary obstacle to civil activism. [5]


Key Issues:


Khimki Forest (see post on Khimki Forest, and Deforestation)


Rechnik Dacha Village

Protestors and police clash at Rechnik


A dacha village located west of Moscow in the KRylatskoye region covering an area of 20 hectares.[6]  Founded in 1950, part of its territory was included in 1998

in the conservation area of Moskvoretsky park.  In a conflict over the legality of the village, the buildings were condemned to demolition.  Protests of residents resulted in a series of clashes with police. [7]  As of December 1, 2011 demolition had been halted but may resume. [8]


Lake Baikal


Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, located in southern Siberia.  Construction of a paper mill near the lake was planned in 1954, and protested in 1957.  Pollution from the plant affects both the ecosystem of the lake, air quality around the plant, and the water quality of residents.  To this day, a debate continues on the continuation of the plant. [9]  Protests and rallies have been held across Russia against the reopening of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill. [10]

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

A coalition of environmental organizations has been formed to halt pollution from the plant, and create an alternative and ecologically friendly industry in Baikalsk including WWF Russia (Moscow), Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk), Greenpeace Russia (Moscow), Movement of Civil Initiatives (St. Petersburg), The MSU Conservation Brigade (Moscow), Green Wave (St. Petersburg), The Socio-Ecological Union (Moscow), Biodiversity Conservation Center (Moscow), and Center of Expertise “ECOM” (St. Petersburg) [11]  Despite public outcry, production was scheduled to resume at the end of February 2010. [12]


Works Cited


[1] Henry, Laura Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia


[2] Yanitsky, Oleg Review of “Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia” Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews


[3] Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn Environmental Activism: A Reference Handbook


[4] Dolutskaya, Sofia Environmental Activists as Agents of Social Democratization: A Historical Comparison of Russia and Mexico…/D_Dolutskaya_Sofia_a_200912.pdf?…1


[5] Nikitin, Vadim The New Civic Activism in Russia, The Nation



















Comments Off on Environmental Activism in Russia

Khimki Forest
Posted by: , October 20, 2011, 6:16 pm
Filed under: Current Events | Tags: , ,


Located in the Moscow Oblast, as part of the “Green Belt” surrounding the city (an area of protected forest).  It contains a river, and neighbors a town of the

same name.  Primarily birch, it encompasses land between the cities of Khimki, Dolgoprudny, Starbeevo, the Klyazma River and the Mezhdunarodnom Highway- totaling around 10 square kilometers.  It is located near the Leningrad Highway, Sheremetyevo International Airport, as well as a large industrial zone and landfill.  The forest is part of a conservation zone in the Moscow Oblast. [1] The Khimki forest has historically been protected under Forest Code- it is not zoned for business or building as it belongs to a specific category of protected forests.  It is also the only forest park north of Moscow in an area of dense industry.  [4]

Khimki forest

Flora and Fauna

It is a mixed forest including linden, pine, spruce, and larch.  The forest includes old growth groves.  It is rich as well in flowering herbs, mushrooms, and berries.  The wildlife includes ducks, kestrels, herons, foxes, deer, boar, hedgehogs, squirrels, and elk.  The forest contains a variety of threatened plant species.

Moscow-St.Petersburg Highway

The project provided that the toll expressway would pass directly through Khimki forest park.  The width of the area allocated for road construction encompasses 400-600 m.  In addition to the roads, transport infrastructure facilities and capital construction buildings were planned for placement on the territory of Khimki forest park.  This highway runs right through the entire forest, cutting it into two parts, which according to residents of the Moscow region, would immediately destroy the entire forest ecosystem and make the forest unsuitable to support large animals.

Residents of Khimki, Moscow, and other cities have launched a massive campaign to protect the forest.  Today, more than 12 thousand signatures were collected against the destruction of Khimki forest, protests have been held in Khimki and Moscow, an incredible amount of letters have been written to various authorities, and an Internet site about Khimki forest has been created ( [1]

It has been alleged that Arkady Rotenberg, the director of the board developing the land is a close friend of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  As of November 3, 2011 the minister’s cabinet has pledged 12 billion rubles to compensate for reforestation.  Construction has begun and been halted repeatedly due to public outcry.


2004:  The president of the Russian Federation made the decision to build the Moscow- Saint Petersburg high-speed toll highway.  The new road was to become a secondary route for the most busy traffic zone on the M-10 “Russia” federal highway.  [1]

2005-6:  Project documentation for building the first section of the road was developed.  [1]

April 28, 2006: The government of Moscow Region No. 358/16 enacted the ordinance “Regarding the dimensions of construction of the high-speed motorway Moscow-Saint Petersburg and the development of related areas of the Moscow region”.  [1]

July 31 2006: Ministry of Transport for the Russian Federation ordered continuation of construction of the Moscow-Saint Petersburg high-speed toll highway. [1]

June-July of 2007: Demonstrations held in defense of Khimki forest. [1][2]

September 5, 2007: Appeal for the protection of the forest was sent to the Administration of the town of Khimki, Administration of the MO, Administration of the Ministry of Transport, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage, and the Government of Moscow.  A request for verification of the legality of decisions regarding the construction of roads through the woods was sent to the General Prosecutor’s Office. [1][2]

September 4, 2007: Appeal for the protection of forests was sent with signatures to the President of the Russian Federation.  Muscovites requested that the president verify the legality of laying the highway through the forest park.  The request was forwarded for consideration from the President’s Administration to the Ministry of the Environment. [1]

October 23, 2007: The social movement for defense of Khimki forest received a response from the deputy head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage, Oleg Mitvol, who recognized that the clearing of Khimki forest was illegal.  Mitvol wrote a letter to the Attorney General’s Office requesting a suspension of the decision made by the Moscow Region government, as “The legal status of the Khimki Forest Park as protected forest, prohibits its’ use.”  Dmitri Medvedev, then deputy prime minister, sent a request to “consider the appeal of the Khimki citizens, and take measures to ensure compliance with Russian laws on land use and the rights of citizens to a healthy environment” to the Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Regional Development, and the Federal Service of Environmental, Technological, and Nuclear Supervision. [1] [2]

November 1, 2007: Office of the President states that Vladimir Putin is personally acquainted with the issues of the forest protection, and has appointed a commission to investigate the environmental impacts of the road. [2]

November 25-26, 2007: A protest against the destruction of Khimki forest was held in Moscow.  Roughly 20 people picketed the Ministry of Transport of Russia in Lubyanka.  Among them were representatives of the initiative group “In Defense of Khimki Forest”, and activists from the Democratic Party of Russia and “Green” party.  Participants in the rally were holding posters: “No environmental catastrophe”, “Ecology under control of the citizens”, “We won’t give Khimki forest to officials”, “Russian production- European standards”. [1]

December of 2007: Deputy Chairman of the Federal Council Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Nikolai Churkin stated that Khimki forest as part of a nature reserve of the Moscow metropolitan area would not be destroyed by highway construction, and construction without the consent of residents.  “No single action will happen without an order from the authorities, and the authorities will not take any action without holding public hearings,” said Churkin.  He stressed that in this situation “everything will be decided by the people.” [1]

February 26, 2008: Hearing was held in the Moscow Taganskii Court regarding the legality of the decision to clear the forest, and on the construction of the Moscow-Saint Petersburg toll highway through Khimki forest.  It came to light, that the project was undersigned by the mayor of Khimki Strelchenko under gross violations- without a public hearing and in secret from the citizens. [1]

March 14, 2008: All applications in Tagansky Court of the plaintiffs rejected by the court. [2]

March 28, 2008: the Ministry of Transport held a subsequent campaign against the felling of Khimki forest. [1]

May 2008: Representatives of the international environmentalist organization “Greenpeace” addressed the Moscow region inter-district environmental prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Natural resources with a demand to stop felling of Khimki forest and verify the legality of the lease of land in the forest.  Environmentalists believed that clear-cutting near the village of Vashutino, near Gardening Association “Istok-2”, is being conducted illegally.  After environmentalists’ entreaties to the prosecutor environmental police came to the place, and the logging was halted on the orders of Assistant Attorney Kirill Govorov.  Environmentalists appealed to law enforcement with the request to verify the legality of the lease of wide forest areas near Khimki villages Ivakino, Starbeevo, and Vashutino. [1]

May 27, 2008: Residents of the city district of Khimki filed three appeals to the Presidential Envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko, with the request to protect Khimki forest from destruction.  In the appeals, they demanded a resolution to abolish the decision reached by the Governance of the Moscow Region, and proposed that other available options for the route be considered.  Environmentalists requested for Poltavchenko to monitor the referral of the appeals concerning the facts of illegal felling in Khimki forest for construction, “lost” borders of the forest, and the renting of land to tens of one-day firms to the Prime Minister, the procurator of the Interdistrict Environmental Prosecutor of the Moscow Region, and the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.  Furthermore, environmentalists consider it necessary to give the forest the status of a specially protected natural area. [1]

June 19, 2008: The Public Environmental Organization “Green Patrol” and Russian ecological “Green” party in cooperation with Moscow area environmental activists established a tent encampment on the border of the Moscow region of Khimki forest to protest its clearing.  The camp organizers reported that they appealed to Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, requesting an investigation of the situation and the cancellation of the lease of 15 hectares of Khimki forest.  In their address, environmentalists demanded that the disappearance of documents regarding the status and borders of Khimki forest territory be explained, and that clear boundaries of the forest be established according to satellite images. [1]

June 30, 2008: Demonstration “Against Himchane Vinci”, directed against the construction company participating in the clearing is held in the center of Moscow.  The Russian Transport Ministry publishes the official announcement that the Governor Gromov has reversed decision No. 358/16, stating “the transport infrastructure and other facilities” will encompass a width of 3000 m in each direction of the projected road. [2]

July 16, 2008: Deputies of the Moscow City Duma adopted an appeal to the Russian government, in which they state that they consider the building of Moscow-Saint Petersburg toll-highway through Khimki forest park to be unacceptable.  “The Moscow City Council requests that the Minister make a decision granting Khimki forest park status as a specially protected natural area, and to revise the construction of the Moscow-Saint Petersburg high-speed toll highway so that it does not pass through the territory of Khimki forest park,” reads the statement.  The Moscow City Duma recognizes the necessity for a new generation motorway between the two largest economic centers of Russia, however considers that “In dealing with this task the forest conservation zone of Moscow should not be harmed”, states the appeal. [1]

October 2008: Oleg Mitvol, head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage and Moscow City Duma deputy Sergei Mitrokhin took part in a rally of Khimki forest defenders in Pushkin Square. [1]

July 25,2008: Albert Pchelintsev, head of the foundation “Against Corruption, Fraud, and Dishonesty” was beaten and shot in the mouth by an unknown assailant. [2]

November 13, 2008: Moscow journalist and environmentalist Mikhail Beketov, editor of “Khimki Pravda” was attacked in the Khimki district of Starobeevo.  The journalist was taken from his apartment by emergency services to Khimki hospital with a closed head injury, concussion, broken leg, and multiple bruises.  Mitvol believed the attack to be tied on Beketov’s attempts to protect Khimki forest. [1]

July 31, 2008:  Greenpeace appeals for European construction companies Vinci and Eurovia to be blacklisted as violators of environmental law, and civil rights. [2]

August 21, 2009: The World Wildlife Fund becomes involved with the protection of Khimki forest, appealing to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, companies Vinci and Eurovia, and the president and prime minister of Russia requesting that the drafts be revised to preserve Khimki forest. [2]

September 27, 2009: Activists from the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest, Greenpeace, WWF, Yabloko party, and the Communist Party of Russia carried out “Plant a Forest”; planting 100 trees at Starbeevo in Khimki forest along the proposed route. [2]

June 17-20, 2011: ”Antiseliger” (a forum for social and environmental activism) was held in the forest to support the Movement for Defense of Khimki Forest. [5]

July 2010: Vinci and Eurovia in collaboration by FGU “Roads of Russia” (the company hired by contracting executive LLC “Heat” began cutting of the forest without permits, and despite rulings of the Public Chamber of Russia as well as European Parliament [3]

July 27, 2010: A demonstration is held outside of the Khimki administration.  The protestors were mainly anti-fascists and anarchists.  The following day prominent anti-fascists Alexei Gaskarov, Denis Solopov, and Maxim Solopov were arrested, and became known as the “Khimki Hostages”[3]

August 26, 2010: President Medvedev releases an order to suspend all construction work, and further discussions of the project [2]

March 2, 2011: Denis Solopov detained after requesting asylum in Ukraine. [3]

April 4, 2011: Hearing on application of Denis Solopov’s extradition. [3]

November 8, 2011: Moscow anti-fascist Ihor Kharchenko to be charged under Art. 282.1 of the Criminal Code for organizing extremists. [3]



Opposition Groups:

Ecological Defense of the Moscow Region

Greenpeace Russia

Left Front

United Russia

Movement for Defense of Khimki Forest

Khimki Pravda

Pop Culture:

Rock Musician Sergei Shnurov of Leningrad released a music video based on the controversy.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Musician Noize MC has been involved heavily in the defense of the forest.

Further Reading:


Works Cited

[1] “Muscovites Fight for the Preservation of Khimki Forest”

[2] “Chronology of the Struggle” Ecooborona

[3] Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages

[4] “Dictionary of Forest Terms”  First Lumber Portal

[5] Lobzina, Alina “Welcome to the Anti-Seliger” The Moscow News

Comments Off on Khimki Forest