SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - France’s Vinci, the world’s largest construction group, said on Saturday it was undeterred by environmental protesters who forced President Dmitry Medvedev to suspend its $1 billion project in Russia.
Vinci is building a 15-km toll section of the road between Moscow and St.Petersburg, a project seen as a litmus test for infrastructure investors since it is the first concession deal involving a major foreign firm.
Medvedev in August halted plans for the motorway in the face of growing public outcry against its route, which bisects a forest on Moscow’s outskirts.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, widely regarded as the country’s paramount leader, spoke in favor of the construction.
“We have no indication from the state that they are about to change the alignment,” Louis-Roch Burgard, CEO of Vinci Concessions told reporters on the sidelines of Sochi Investment Forum. He said he did not know when Vinci could resume work.
“We do not know, the state has taken extra time to think about the project,” he said. “It is a thirty-year contract of more than $1 billion. The fact that it (the delay) could take one month or six weeks does not change anything.”
Medvedev’s order could give more time to different interest groups to express their opinion and examine alternatives. Medvedev’s consultative body Public Chamber held hearings on the project last Thursday.
“We are dealing with tens of projects in France, Europe and throughout the world and sometimes some projects face opposition. It is not the source of concern for us, otherwise we should be changing business,” Burgard said.
The toll road will also provide better access to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport. Traffic jams along the highway leading to the airport have become routine in recent years.
Burgard said that in his view the route through the forest, which is owned by the state, was “the right one,” but if the government chose other options the firm would have to look at them. Experts say other options are more expensive.
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov openly spoke in favor of the forest route and criticized Medvedev’s order. The public conflict between the two has become the biggest domestic political row of Medvedev’s presidency.
Burgard still sees more opportunities in the Russian market and he said the firm was looking at a number of other projects in various parts of the country. None have reached the final tender phase.
“We are positive, the needs are absolutely huge, be it roads, airports, railways or car parks. We know that the government has the willingness to do things and they will need concessions among other things,” he said.
Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; editing by James Jukwey