MOSCOW (AP) — A 63-year-old municipal legislator who opposed a construction project that would destroy a forest just outside Moscow was in intensive care Friday after being stabbed repeatedly by an unidentified assailant.
The stabbing of Lyudmila Garifulina is the latest in a string of attacks on environmental defenders who have stood in the way of powerful business interests. Few of these crimes have been solved.
Garifulina, a member of the legislature in the town of Staraya Kupavna, was attacked outside her apartment building late Wednesday. She was stabbed four times with a knife.
Garifulina's Just Russia party said she was in a grave condition after surgery and added that she suffered a concussion and other injuries in a previous attack in November, again when an unidentified man beat her outside her home. No one has been apprehended for that attack either.
Police said it has opened a probe into the stabbing of Garifulina but wouldn't comment on possible motives.
Valery Zubov, a federal lawmaker with Just Russia, said Garifulina was targeted because of her professional activities and urged Russia's interior minister to personally oversee the investigation.
Alla Chernysheva, an activist with the Environmental Defense of the Moscow Region group, said Garifulina had received numerous threats over her efforts to protect a local forest, which is slated to be cut down to build a new road.
"She wasn't intimidated by that and continued campaigning," Chernysheva said.
Numerous other environmental campaigners in Russia have been targeted over the past years.
In 2008, Mikhail Beketov, the founder and editor of a local newspaper who campaigned against building a highway through the Khimki forest near Moscow, was left brain-damaged and unable to speak after being beaten up. Another activist, Konstantin Fetisov, spent three months in a coma after being beaten with baseball bat in November 2010 and was left severely disabled.
Russia's oil bonanza has fueled the construction boom with forests around Moscow and other big cities being felled en masse for new roads and housing. The authorities routinely ignore protests by environmentalists and police have done little to protect them.
Road construction is widely acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt sectors of the Russian economy, with numerous opportunities for kickbacks. Developers pay kickbacks to win contracts, then skimp on materials and skim the profits, sharing some cash with corrupt officials, while bribing inspectors to look the other way.