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MOSCOW, April 10 (Itar-Tass) —— Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose term of office is expiring in less than a month from now, is hurrying to start implementing one of his most ambitious initiatives – the creation of Greater Moscow and the transfer of government offices outside the boundaries of the current megapolis. Some have been voicing doubts as to whether such a large-scale and costly project will be implemented the way it was conceived and within the expected deadlines. The more so, since president-elect Vladimir Putin is not an ardent enthusiast of the project at all.
Immediately after being appointed as the Moscow Region’s new governor, Sergei Shoigu said that the Greater Moscow project required further detailed studies. In order to avoid creating more problems than advantages Medvedev called a special conference on expanding the borders of Moscow into the surrounding region. The territory of the capital as of July 1, 2012 will grow by 148,000 hectares, in other words, by 2.5 times to include territories in the southwest of the Moscow Region. The area to be taken over has a population of about 300,000.
Medvedev came out with the idea of creating Greater Moscow in June 2011. The city will expand to a line lying 60 kilometers southwest of its center. In all, it will incorporate 21 new municipalities.
Moscow’s new territories will be built up by low-rise houses. The world’s leading companies will be invited to do the design work. All questions of transport links between the older and newer parts of the city will be resolved to ensure the residents of not a single district should feel themselves cut off from the center or the airports. The implementation of these ideas, the president believes, will convert the Moscow agglomeration with a population of nearly 20 million into a competitive megapolis and a convenient place to live in.
Moscow’s new territories will be split into three zones, said Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. There will be the near belt with partial urbanization, medium belt, where projects for creating local urban construction complexes and social facilities in a natural environment are to be implemented, and the remote recreation belt, meant for the development of tourism, rest and leisure and the preservation of the existing natural sites. Sobyanin said the remote belt would be the greatest in area.
Also, the new territories, the mayor said, will house the government compound, a financial and business center, research and innovation clusters, and university, medical recreation and tourist clusters.
At the conference Medvedev issued instructions to speed up the plan for building administrative centers for government offices. “Work is in progress on plans for moving to new territories the government structures and federal bodies of power. I would like this process not to be delayed. Design work should begin already this year.”
Presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich said that the construction of new buildings and government offices might start no earlier than the end of 2013, and construction plans should be presented by July.
The idea of relieving the city’s center of government offices is central to the task of expanding Moscow. The vacated government buildings might be used for hotels and offices of an international financial center Moscow is expected to become within tight deadlines.
Medvedev clearly wants civil servants to move to one cluster, says one of the participants in the conference, quoted by the daily Vedomosti. “This is rational from the standpoint of saving time and costs. Today civil servants have to work on the road. Government ministers and their deputies are present at their workplace one day a week on the average.”
However firm Medvedev may be in insisting on the resettlement from the center of Moscow, he will have to make compromises, says another federal civil servant. The president and the Kremlin staff will stay where they are, and the federal security service FSB is unlikely to move from its historic place in Lubyanskaya Square, either.
One of the consultants of the project, quoted by the newspaper, says the plans for resettlement have not been finalized yet. Until just recently it had been unclear whether the relocation would take place at all. Up to the very moment of last Monday’s conference many federal and Moscow officials had shared their doubts to this effect with the daily Vedomosti. Their main argument is Vladimir Putin’s attitude to the idea of a cluster for civil servants is very cool, so he may choose to procrastinate until the whole affair grinds to a halt.
The talk about a resettlement within two or three years is laughable, said a senior government official. According to early estimates, the construction of office buildings, infrastructures and housing for the civil servants would cost one trillion rubles. “The federal budget will not stand this,” he warned with certainty.
According to a participant in the conference the main purpose was to demonstrate Medvedev’s firm intention to go ahead with the reform.
“The relocation of civil servants does not enjoy full approval from the country’s leadership. There were many indications of that back last year,” says political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov.
“Putin does not want to go elsewhere. The Kremlin for him is a sacred place, and resettling only government officials would look strange. Medvedev is hurrying to make irreversible the few major reforms that are associated with his name,” Vinogradov said.
MOSCOW, April 10