The problem of out of town recreation, which many newly rich Russians have long solved by building villas by nearly all rivers, lakes and ponds, as well as in preserve forests in the Moscow Region, has suddenly acquired the proportions of a genuine drama this summer.
The previous leadership of the Ministry of Natural Resources closed their eyes to gross violations of environmental regulations and law. But the new team led by Yuri Trutnev, which came to the ministry after the recent administrative reform of the government, has focused not on ecology as such but also on the forests and water bodies and dachas on their banks.
The previous ministry leadership said there were few violations, but the new leaders have started the inventory of the villas in the Moscow Region and say there are thousands of illegal dachas - and the inventory is far from over. More than 2,000 dachas were built illegally on the shores of the Pestovo, Istra and Pyalovo reservoirs.
Most violations date back to the Yeltsin era and include mass seizure of land, the construction of buildings in the right-of-way zones, the discharge of sewage into reservoirs (which feed the Moscow water supply system), and the felling of unique first category forests. Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the Federal Environmental and Nature Monitoring Service, says the first stage of the inspection has revealed the illegal seizure of 1,400 hectares of state-owned land in the Moscow Region.
The list of "sins" of the newly rich Russian dacha owners includes the incredible number of private fences and security, which have made recreation, fishing and berry and mushroom picking in the Moscow Region impossible for most city residents. In other words, the task is to restore not just law and order but also social justice.
It is a challenging task, though Article 222 of the Civil Code says clearly that the squatter must tear down the building at his/her own expense. The problem is that the "squatters," who view themselves as the modern Russian elite, have connections in high places, influence and money to lose, and are not eager to part with their much-feathered nests. Of the villas to be torn down on the Istra reservoir alone, some are owned by oligarchs Boris Berezovsky, Anatoly Chubais and Vladimir Potanin, and the Russian pop star Alla Pugacheva.
But the Ministry of Natural Resources is set to get what it wants. To begin with, "we have cut short the approval and allocation of land plots until we formulate a system that will be understandable to the people and officials alike and will protect state interests," said Yuri Trutnev. Second, the ministry is compiling a "black list" and preparing litigation documents for the Prosecutor Office of the Moscow Region. Only those who acquired their dachas more than 15 years ago can sit back and relax, as the statute of limitations precludes their punishment anyway.