Controversial Russian highway plan back on

Looks like even Bono couldn't stop it. Despite a wave of protest environmental and civil society groups throughout the summer, it appears that the Kremlin is going ahead with a controversial plan to build a highway through the Khimki forest, north of Moscow:

The Moscow-St. Petersburg highway has become a political issue for the Kremlin after a wave of opposition protests last summer. In August, President Dmitry Medvedev suspended it in a decision welcomed by environmentalists.

Vedomosti quoted several unidentified Kremlin sources, including a senior official, as saying construction would go ahead after all. The Kremlin declined to comment Thursday.

Opponents to the project argue the highway could easily be re-routed without damaging pristine woodland. The project has become a rallying point for environmentalists, rights groups and Kremlin critics.

FP contributor Julia Ioffe adds some context:

Why did this happen? Well, money, for one thing. Vinci, the French company building the road, apparently used the French government to lean on the Kremlin, which was already probably quite willing to listen: if there was deemed to be a breach of contract between SKZZ (Vinci’s vehicle) and the Russian company N-Trans, N-Trans could be liable for as much as 3.5 billion rubles ($113 million). And let’s not forget who N-Trans invited to participate in the project to make sure it gets built: longtime Putin buddy Arkady Rotenberg.

Something tells me that, as much as the Kremlin totally, absolutely, hilariously wants to appease– I mean, pretend– I mean, develop civil society, that Rotenberg’s — and Putin’s — skajillions matter more.

Three journalists who have reported critically on the project, including Kommersant's Oleg Kashin, who have reported crticially on the project have been attacked over the last two years.  


Prime Minister's Questions turns into Smiths reference contest

In keeping with his image as a younger, hipper kind of Tory leader, British Prime Minister David Cameron has often expressed his appreciation for the music of legendary '80s band, The Smiths. The indie rock pioneers aren't all that appreciative of his support, however, with guitarist Johnny Marr tweeting last week,  "David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it."

Sensing an opportunity at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Labour backbencher Kerry McCarthy used Marr's rebuke as the premise for a jab over Cameron's support for raising university fees:

'As someone who claims to be an avid fan of The Smiths, the Prime Minister will no doubt be rather upset this week that both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have banned him from liking them.'

She continued: 'The Smiths are, of course, the archetypal students' band. If he wins tomorrow night's vote [on tuition fees], what songs does he think students will be listening to? Miserable Lie, I Don't Owe You Anything or Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now.'

But McCarthy's plan backfired when Cameron was ready with a quick comeback:

He said: 'I accept that if I turned up I probably wouldn't get This Charming Man and if I went with the Foreign Secretary [William Hague] it would probably be William It Was Really Nothing.'

Bigmouth strikes again!

Hat tip: The Awl