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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Illegal Development Linked to Kremlin

Krasnodar regional authorities say in public documents that a Kremlin department is developing an illegal resort inside a protected nature reserve on the Black Sea.

In Krasnodar's "Forest Plan" for the next nine years, posted on the region's official web site, the Office of Presidential Affairs is listed as an "initiator" of a "health and recreation" complex on two plots of the Anapa district forest, which belong to the Bolshoi Utrish nature reserve.

The law forbids construction in protected nature reserves.

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The Office of Presidential Affairs denied that it has a project in the area. "We don't have any projects in the Krasnodar region," said spokesman Viktor Khrekov. "The forestry published incorrect information."

The resort is listed as one of 22 recreational investment projects in the Krasnodar region. The list is signed by Alexander Byuller, deputy head of the regional forestry department.

Byuller was unavailable for comment Thursday, and another forestry official requested that questions about the resort be sent by fax. There was no subsequent response to the fax.

Development in the protected reserve first came to light late last year, when the forestry department ordered construction of an illegal road through endangered forest to the Black Sea coast.

Coastal plots were leased to a Moscow-based organization, Dar, to develop "fire safety infrastructure" and carry out forestry duties, according to an agreement between Dar and the forestry department.

According to the "Forest Plan," the same coastal plots will be used by the Office of Presidential Affairs for development of the resort.

Road construction was halted in January and declared illegal by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, but neither the construction company nor the forestry department has been penalized. Construction equipment is still parked near the site, environment rights activists said. Any large-scale construction on the coast cannot start before the road is finished because currently the pristine coastal areas can only be reached by foot.

The official duties of the Office of Presidential Affairs are "organizing and carrying out the logistical support" for the president, government and legislature, according to a statement on its web site. But the office has been implicated in developing closed resorts in the past.

In what appears to be a similar setup, a skiing resort was recently built on Lunnaya Polyana, a picturesque mountain spot in the middle of a World Heritage site, in the Adygea republic in the western Caucasus, Novaya Gazeta reported last October. Although the site officially holds the status of "scientific center," not a single scientist is known to do research there, and guards around the ski slopes and lodges of the complex make passing tourists delete photos from their cameras, the report said.