During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in February, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin presented an ambitious 15-year renovation project that would demolish and replace some 4,500 old five-story apartment buildings that currently house nearly 1.6 million people in the Russian capital. The program, according to Sobyanin, would require around 3 trillion rubles (more than $50 billion) in government funding.
The idea behind the project is that apartment owners would abandon their homes on the promise that the city would compensate them or build them better apartments.
On June 14, the day the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, approved the Moscow renovation project, mass demonstrations were held in the Russian capital. Protesters demanded that the project be halted, claiming it violates residential rights.
The project is also opposed by environmentalists, who say the bill in its current form shows no concern for the capital’s ecology, and that such massive reconstruction would have a devastating impact on the city.
The heads of 11 Russian and international organizations outlined their concerns about the project in a letter to Valentina Matvienko, who chairs the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, which will next vote on the bill.
“Implementation of the renovation program may result, according to expert data, in the capital losing at least 27 million square meters of green zones, which, within the borders of old Moscow, amount to around 7 percent of the land area covered by woody vegetation,” they wrote. “In some metropolitan districts, this figure may exceed 50%. Taking into account the natural features of the region, these are absolutely unacceptable losses!”
The All-Russian Society for Nature Conservation – an institution created back in 1924, at the dawn of the Soviet Union, which still has close ties to the government – took issue with the environmentalists. The society’s first deputy chairman, Elmurod Rasulmukhamedov, denied the information and arguments put forward in their letter. “The information about the green spaces targeted for renovation was apparently taken from a CIA spy satellite,” the Lenta.ru website quoted Rasulmukhamedov as saying.
Greenpeace’s office in Russia told Polygraph.info that Rasulmukhamedov’s claim about the CIA satellite is false, saying the letter to Matvienko concerning the Moscow renovations used information from the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2A optical imaging satellite.
“We are very serious about the sources of our information,” Greenpeace Russia analyst Vasily Yablokov said. “We use publicly available free images [from] the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2-a; images [from] the Landsat Mission; and University of Maryland products. In some very rare instances, we buy high resolution images from the ScanEx,” Yablokov said.