Interview with Evgenija Chirikova (regards.fr)
This interview was given by Evgenija Chirikova to the French journalist Mathilde Goanec from regards.fr. The French article can be found on www.regards.fr/web/Les-defenseurs-de-la-foret-de,7087
Это интервью Евгении Чириковой французской журналистке Матильде Гоанек. Статью на французском языке можно найти по адресу
-What the Khimki forest represented for you, as a simple citizen?
Khimki forest is the little motherland: it is about the view from your window, the possibility to go for a walk with your children, show them the nature, visit St. George spring and drink fresh water. It is the comfortable environment which is vital for your well-being, actually essential, even when some people from big cities have forgotten that it is essential.
-Why did you decide to fight for this cause ?
It is natural for everyone to protect its habitat, its environment. Little fishes, for example, will always fight for the place below their stone, even if you - a giant - place your giant hand inside the aquarium. It is natural to protect your motherland when invaders come - it has always been like this. We protect the friendly, not aggressive environment and it is a question of survival. For our children, they cannot grow up in the beton jungle.
-The highway construction is already well underway. Why keep fighting ?
First, the construction is slow, subcontractors are continuously going bankrupt, this will definitely take many years more and we have enough time to fight. It is a question of justice: I do not agree with this destruction which is done using my taxpayer's money and the pension fund money. It is what really happens: my environment is being destroyed and my money and that of my parents brought to the oligarchs through offshore companies with the help of French corporations. With our complaint against Vinci we can still change something and this is crucial for justice and for the forest.
Here comes the second point: there are still more than 1000 hectares, i.e. 90%, of the forest intact. If there is no road with all the traffic and supermarkets and gas stations on its side, forest can still be saved. If the road is build, then it will die, divided in several parts. So if we stop it now, we save the forest.
-Why did you get involved in this complaint in France?
At some point, we realized that it is an international issue. With the help of Bankwatch CEE, we discovered the huge offshore scheme behind the project. Vinci with its affiliates was behind the concession in a very complicated scheme - it was obvious that the scheme is not economically logical if there is no personal interest behind. We investigated further, then found Sherpa who helped us to find more evidence for suspicions of corruption.
-Have you also filed a complaint in Russia?
We've had several lawsuits in Russia. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find an independent court in Russia. We had several successful trials, but much less than our evidence would suggest.
-Vinci told me that the company owns only 37.5% of NWCC and speaks about another investor,Mostotrest. Bankwatch and Sherpa do not talk about this investor in their report. Do you know what is the role and weight of this company?
Vinci, its different structures, own 50% of NWCC. The rest belongs to different structures of "the Russian partners", one of them Arkady Rotenberg, an oligarch and a friend of Vladimir Putin. Mostotrest is a company of Arkady Rotenberg, it is not in the ownership structure of NWCC, however as a subcontractor, it manages about 80%(!!!) of the project money. Sometime in the beginning there probably was an idea that Mostotrest will be one of the owners, so representatives of Vinci keep talking about it.
-You talk about public corruption: what are your arguments to say that ?
NWCC was created by Vinci together with Arkady Rotenberg and N-trans, where the then-minister of transport Igor Levitin had previously been working for many years. The rigorous offshore scheme with entities on the British Virginian Islands and Kayman Islands - both jurisdictions that do not disclose information on the company owner's - show an extremely cautious approach in case no public corruption is involved. Further, NWCC gets enormous privileges from different authorities and the concession agreement has never been disclosed to public.
-What kind of impact this complaint can have on international business in Russia ?
Well, international business will now have to take into account the civil society, grassroot movements. They see that some simple citizens can not only demonstrate near their houses, but also go to foreign courts and fight corporations on their own land. Next time they will have to think twice before talking about "international expertise and best standards" while destroying environment and being involved in financial crimes. As the Greek writer Aesop used to say: "No one is so powerless that he cannot take revenge".
-Do the government plan to sign others big public-private partnerships in Russia ? Are you afraid of this ?
Yes, they do. One example is the future Central Ring Road going around Moscow on a distance and destroying several forest zones. These partnerships seem to be very useful for those involved in corruption - Russian oligarchs and officials as well as international corporations - allowing them speculate with public land and transfer taxpayers' money to the offshore zones.
-Is ecology has become a political issue in Russia ?
Yes, and this is not only about the Khimki forest. It is about all the natural resources: land and mineral resources. Actually, ecologists are the main enemies of the current authorities, the rule we have in Russia. Because we have a rule of consuming natural resources as fast as possible and everyone, who is against this, opposes the regimen. Russia suffers under the resource curse: economy is based mainly on natural resources, intelligent work is not demanded, everyone is seeking for rent, so the whole system of corruption and authoritarian rule evolves. It seems to me, that ecological issues are more political in Russia, than the left-right debate or the idea of finding someone instead of Putin, and these issues will get even more decisive with time.
Take for example the current incident with the Arctic Sunrise. It is an ecological, but also a highly political issue. Citizens of several developed counties are detained for nothing else, than just a peaceful "no" to destroying Arctic, they are experiencing Russian punitive system, having no proper food, living in cold cells. Why does no prime minister or president say something official against their detention? Isn't it that they just need the oil, which Gazprom wants to extract in the Arctic? I want to say, ecology is our common political issue, an issue for all countries, not only Russia. And it will become more severe with the ongoing climate change and resource hunger.
-Why did you get involved in protests against Putin last winter?
Putin is the personification of this resource economy - he is not our only enemy, but one of them. Apart from that, he is personally in charge of several crimes. One example - not the strongest one - he personally signed the decree to transform the forest land in the Khimki forest to the land of transport and industry, thus putting legal base for the construction of the road. This was a crime, president is not allowed to do it on his own.
-How do you plan to continue your commitment?
Now it is most important for me to support different small grassroot movements across Russia. I think that it is the key to the change in society: when many people will actively protect their environment - in the broadest sense - it will be impossible for the government or corporations to destroy it. I want to share my vision, knowledge and experience.
-Is there any space for political green political leaders in Russia and do you consider yourself as a political leader now ?
It is now the perfect time for green political leaders: the government does everything to show that it neglects any ecological issues. They mess with the most "sacred" places: Arctic, the Baikal lake. People may have different everyday problems, but they recognize well that ecology is vital.