Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, July 15

© Alex StefflerRussian Press - Behind the Headlines, July 15
Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, July 15 - Sputnik International
New location for Gazprom skyscraper / Authorities respond to Putin-007 posters / President and government to leave Moscow city center

Moskovsky Komsomolets

New location for Gazprom skyscraper

St. Petersburg authorities have essentially given the green light to the 500 meter tall Lakhta Center office building in the UNESCO-protected Neva River delta area. This unprecedented deviation from the 27 meter maximum height limit was permitted by the municipal Commission for Land Use and Development.

On July 13, St. Petersburg’s Land Use and Development Commission approved the 500 meter high Gazprom HQ building. The investor opted to relocate the skyscraper from Okhta to the coast of the Neva Bay, after purchasing a land plot on the city’s outskirts.

Experts from UNESCO, the National Society for the Protection of Monuments and local conservationists have already protested against the skyscraper being built at this location. But the investor again managed to lobby for the project exploiting loopholes in the City Planning Code and local land use and development regulations governing height restrictions. The parties involved are still discussing whether so massive a departure from the official limit can be considered merely a deviation. City authorities have started reconsidering the project which had previously been abolished following pressure from the president, UNESCO and the general public.

On July 13, members of the Land Use and Development Commission planned to analyze documents submitted by the investor substantiating the need for this departure from municipal land use and development regulations, proving that the building will not impact the city’s historical vistas. They were also expected to heed the public hearings where participants were vocal in their opposition to the project. But Roman Filimonov, commission head and Deputy Governor overseeing the municipal construction sector, suggested starting with pictures. A video clip using a computer model of the future skyscraper’s visual impact was shown.

The statement issued by the Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture, and signed by its head, Yulia Kiselyova, indicates that the municipal City Planning Expert Council should have submitted its findings on this survey. However, it was decided delay the council meeting pending the committee’s decision.

Sergei Malkov, member of St. Petersburg Legislature and the Commission for Land Use and Development, said that the video footage gave an even more shocking impression of the impact it would have on the most valued city views on the Vasilyevsky Island Spit. That said, just three of thirteen Commission members present opposed the project.

UNESCO experts have noted the danger of the project, Russian experts and activists have written open letters to the St. Petersburg Governor, the prime minister and the president.  “If some other party, not United Russia, makes it to the St. Petersburg Legislature after the December elections, then the decision on the Lakhta Center will be revised, just like what happened with the Okhta Center. Moreover, it will no longer be possible to use the ‘deviation from parameters’ loophole in this manner,” he noted.

Perhaps that is why the final decision will not be made by the city government, but by Yulia Kiselyova, head of the municipal government’s Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture.



Authorities respond to Putin-007 posters

Three illegal posters showing Vladimir Putin as James Bond advertising the Xquest game were put up in downtown Moscow in the small hours of July 13. Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said this borders on being a public disorder offence and blamed the Moscow media and advertising committee.

The posters were removed by mid-Thursday, committee head Vladimir Chernikov said. Those pasted Thursday evening were removed much faster.

The posters feature Putin as Casino Royale’s 007 and say he plays the lead role while President Dmitry Medvedev plays a supporting role in a movie produced by

According to its website, Xquest is “a secret state project set up as a national quest game.” Participants must “ferret out spies and informers around the world, expose traitors and protect secret information.”

Until Thursday evening, the site’s home page displayed a “Contact Putin” banner. Users typed in their names and mobile phone numbers, and a video clip in which two men discussed the new agent’s mission would start to play. A voice like Putin’s then says he wants to speak to the agent. Then the user’s phone rings and he is issued instructions.

The player who gets the highest score is declared the winner. One mission is to adorn the city streets with the line “VV will cover” 2,000 times. Any “agents” whose oeuvre gets covered by the media or elicits a comment by Putin himself will win a brand new iPad. That was the prize that inspired the author of the illegal Putin-007 posters.

Pavel Rakhman, head of the company behind the game, Night Street, said they used Putin’s name because their advertising budget was so small and that lawyers had assured them Xquest was not violating any law because it does not show Putin’s face and is very limited in its use of his name.

Rakhman and his partners, who have previously organized street races and other unofficial mass events, launched Night Street last year. They invested over 1 million rubles ($35,600) in the game jointly with Auto Hansa, the Coffee House chain and the newspaper F5. So far, 70,000 people play it across Russia. The prize, a car, will be awarded in late July.

Rakhman said they are helping the authorities investigate the illegal posters but that the “agent” involved is not answering their e-mails.

Peskov said the authorities are fully capable of ensuring this never happens again.

Moscow’s advertising committee has turned to the police for help. This is the first time it has done so, Chernikov said.

The committee is now looking for the person who put up a poster showing Putin and Medvedev wearing Bermuda shorts by the TsUM department store. It has set up a special service to monitor all cases of illegal advertising.

“This is not public disorder and there was no criminal intent,” said Alexei Melnikov, Moscow City Bar Association. “Putin was shown as the dashing Agent 007, so the worst the poster’s creator faces is a fine.”



President and government to leave Moscow city center

Izvestia has published a map showing where government offices are to be located on territory recently incorporated into Moscow.

Rather than being relocated to one “bureaucratic center,” they will be distributed between different districts in outlying areas of Moscow.

Effectively, this means several “government villages” will be built for officials.

The Presidential Executive Office will be the most remote of all: the head of state’s residence will remain at the end of the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Highway, very near Zvenigorod.

The new financial center will be headquartered in Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye.

The President’s Administrative Directorate will border on the Moscow City Government, which will be next to the area set aside for the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Audit Chamber. All these “official compounds” will be located in the Kommunarka-Astafyevo region south of Moscow on territory that is not considered prestigious. It is an area home to the notorious Butovo dumping ground where mass executions were held in the Soviet era and the Salaryevo solid waste landfill, which was closed in 2007.

External facilities include new research and production centers – which will be built near Klimovsk. Courts will be situated in the Govorovo area.

The Skolkovo innovation city is the only development that will stay where it is.

Moscow is expanding by a total of 144,000 hectares.

One source close to the Moscow City Government believes it is too soon to assess the project’s efficiency. “At best, this is an initial plan which is certain to be changed and improved,” he told Izvestia.

Oleg Mitvol described the relocation scheme as half-baked. “Why locate government departments dozens of kilometers apart? How will officials travel to meetings in the Presidential Executive Office? On a concrete road, alongside all those trucks? Or will they build a special highway for VIP motorcades and make the trucks take a detour through the city?” he wonders.

He says that although government departments will be moved to greenfield sites, some trees will be felled, and construction will take a toll on forested park zones.

Mitvol believes that grouping all the officials together in one place would be more sound.

Andrei Bokov, president of the Russian Union of Architects, says no decision on government offices, even a tentative one, has been taken yet. “All we have is a resolution to give Moscow a number of south-western territories – one between the Kievskoye and Varshavskoye highways and three enclaves in the west – Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye, Skolkovo and Gorki-9.” 

Andrei Bokov believes the construction of a new urban center is both a decisive and promising step. “In his day Peter the Great built Lefortovo as a model of St. Petersburg, and Moscow became a city with two centers.”

He is optimistic: “The movement of money generates more money, leading to investment in new areas and the creation of new jobs. This huge tract of land is a vast resource for affordable, livable housing – attractive for young families and those who want to get a job at the Government Center.”

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