Putin says Russia must build blocked motorway

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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday insisted that Russia must build a new motorway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg that was suspended by President Dmitry Medvedev after protests.

Medvedev on Thursday ordered the suspension of plans to build the motorway through Khimki forest outside Moscow, after environmental concerns became a rallying call for the Russian opposition.

Speaking on a visit to the Far East city of Khabarovsk, Putin said he had discussed the issue with Medvedev.

"The road between Russia's biggest centres, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, needs to be built," he said, noting that there were "always problems between development and conserving nature."

He said that "unfortunately, we sometimes find that ecological problems are exploited in conflicts between (business) competitors."

But Putin was also careful not to give any sign of contradicting Medvedev.

"We discussed this question with Dmitry Anatoliyevich (Medvedev). I repeat that this completely corresponds to the logic and practice of our behaviour."

Pointedly, Putin then set off towards the next big city to the west, Chita some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) distant, driving himself in a Lada car on a newly-built highway.

"Until now, there was no motorway here. Finally, we did it. I need to look at it," he said.

Medvedev's order halting construction pending further discussions came after least 2,000 people turned out Sunday for a banned concert in central Moscow protesting the Khimki forest motorway plans and was seen as a rare sign of the authorities responding to popular protests.

Some observers have portrayed Medvedev as more liberal by inclination than Putin, who he succeeded in the Kremlin in 2008 after two terms in office that saw a dramatic increase in the power of the state.

Some analysts however have played down the differences, noting that Medvedev's legitimacy remains dependent on Putin and the president has yet to bring real change to Russia.

It remains unclear whether Putin will seek to return to the Kremlin in 2012 presidential elections but both men have spent the summer indulging in high-profile photo opportunities clearly aimed at impressing the electorate.

© 2010 AFP

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