Embassies Threatened by Nearby Work

MTThe construction site in the neighboring building towering over the Nigerian Embassy on Malaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa.
Tomas Arteaga Negrete sounds like a native Muscovite as he talks about the construction near his workplace. It is so noisy, he says, that it is hard to work and the builders sometimes keep pounding away through the weekend.

"It is no more than 6 meters away," said Negrete, the acting charge d'affaires at the Ecuadorian Embassy, referring to the building going up next door on Gorokhovsky Pereulok.

And his is not the only embassy where the staff are annoyed. Two embassies have been damaged in construction accidents, and there are fears of terrorist attacks, as a favorite bugbear of many Muscovites, tochechnaya zastroika, or infill construction, has reached embassy buildings in the center.

A number of embassies have expressed concern about construction nearby, Ivan Sergeyev, head of the Foreign Ministry's Main Administration for Service to the Diplomatic Corps, said at a special meeting of the Moscow City Duma on Nov 30, according to the Duma's web site.

Infill construction is the development of vacant or underused lots in already developed areas. Such projects have angered residents, who say the associated noise pollution, loss of green space and widespread disregard for safety standards dramatically reduce their quality of life, not to mention their safety.

Construction work is ongoing near 12 embassies, including those that are home to the missions from Portugal, Nigeria, Britain, the Vatican, Algeria and Namibia, Sergeyev said.

Many of the city's 91 embassies are located in the center and housed in buildings on protected lists as structures of particular historical or architectural value. The construction of new buildings extremely close to an old building can have a deleterious effect, Sergeyev said, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported Tuesday.

"We need to decide what to do with the 12 construction sites threatening to harm the embassy mansions," Sergeyev said. "The issue could end in scandal."

Two embassies have been damaged by construction work this year.

A wing of the Nigerian Embassy at 21 Malaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa was badly damaged after a huge block of bricks fell from the neighboring construction site.

"The listed building suffered a large blow, as part of the roof was destroyed," Sergeyev said. "Cracks have since appeared in the walls, and it was only through luck that no one suffered in the accident."

In the other accident, a piece of concrete fell on the Portuguese Embassy on Ulitsa Gilyarovskogo. No one was available to comment Wednesday at the embassy.

Besides the danger posed by accidents, security personnel warn that having construction sites so close to the embassy buildings poses other threats, with terrorism being a particular danger.

"In Soviet times, most of the walls that faced embassies had no windows," said Yury Dolynin, the city police official responsible for embassy safety, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported. "Now they have put holes in them and it won't be difficult for terrorists to carry out attacks."