A Greenpeace Russia activist surveys the damage to the protected Khimki Forest. Image: Vadim Kantor

Protected Russian forest is being destroyed in order to build a new toll highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The campaign to save this forest has already suffered through outrageous acts against local residents and activists – including beatings, arson, and murder. That this is all happening during the UN Year of the Forest only adds another layer of tragedy to the situation, and French construction conglomerate Vinci doesn’t appear ashamed of its involvement in the destruction of this protected forest, the apparent disregard for its own environmental policy, nor the violation of its commitment to the UN Global Compact on human rights.

Today Vinci shareholders gathered in Paris for their annual assembly – where they were greeted with a message to stop the destruction of Khimki Forest delivered by Evgenia Chirikova, leader of the Movement to Defend Khimki Forest, and a flashmob of her fellow activists.

The decision to build a highway through the Khimki Forest has effectively violated the most important conservation provision in Russia. According to Russian law, forest in a protection category can only be cut down if there is no possible alternative location for the object being built. In this case there is not just one alternative location – but 11 alternative construction options for the highway. Judicial proceedings have failed to identify the chosen construction plan as illegal, despite the clear violation.

The Khimki Forest story goes far beyond the destruction of protected forest. It contains a vicious cocktail of scandal, as defending the commercial interests linked to the highway project has resulted in horrendous acts against activists. Last summer huge protests in Moscow caused Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to halt construction, but the powerful interests involved in the project managed to get the highway back on track.

Bulldozers started their work plowing down the Khimki Forest this month. I was there and wrote an eyewitness account, with more photos from my Russian colleagues.

It is not too late to stop the destruction, and not too late to demand an end to the violations of civil and human rights. You can stand together with the Russian activists who are putting their lives and freedom at risk by adding your name to this petition backed by a coalition of NGOs. The petition asks Vinci to end its involvement in the project until an alternative route is chosen - one that doesn't involve further destruction in Khimki Forest.