A closed city at the heart of Moscow

Kremlin officials are often accused of being out of touch with ordinary people – an allegation that is unlikely to go away any time soon after the creation of a fenced-off enclave for top bureaucrats in Moscow’s historic city center.

The area – an architectural treasure trove of early 17th-century and art nouveau buildings punctuated by drab Communist blocks – houses the presidential administration and is within shouting distance of Red Square and the Kremlin.

Behind the metal fence that separates the area from the rest of the city is a clutter of listed buildings, including the house of one of Russia’s most famous religious artists, Simon Ushakov, and two baroque churches.

Heritage watchdog Arkhnadzor said the area was closed off in secret and violates Russia’s constitution.

A spokesman for the powerful presidential property department, Viktor Khrekov, said the move was necessary to accommodate President Dmitry Medvedev’s security, the Federal Protective Service (FSO), as its headquarters in the Kremlin was being repaired. 

The plain metal fence, Khrekov told the online newspaper Gazeta.ru, “mimics the style of this neighborhood.”

The fencing-off means there will be restricted pedestrian and vehicle access to the area, set in Moscow’s historic Kitai-Gorod neighborhood. A FSO officer detained me briefly after I walked onto the territory unchallenged to investigate and told me to delete photographs of the fence.

“The appearance of such a ‘closed town’ within a European capital in the 21st century is an unprecedented event,” Arkhnadzor said in a press release. “Russia has seen nothing of the kind since 1955, when Nikita Khrushchev decided to grant free access to the Kremlin.” The Kremlin had previously been a forbidden city at the heart of Moscow.

Not even the “tense days of terrorist attacks on Moscow” prompted such a move, the group added.

An acolyte of the dean at a 1653 church, one of the two churches which have been fenced off, said the barrier was scaring away his congregation and tourists. He added, however, that worshippers would not require permits to attend services, as earlier announced.

Despite Kremlin claims the fence is temporary, Arkhnadzor activist Dmitry Lisitsyn fears the enclave may be permanent.

“I wouldn’t believe a single word they say. Khrekov’s comments point to a future security regime there similar to the Kremlin,” he said.

Lisitsyn also said Arkhnadzor had invited President Medvedev to visit the area.

The FSO declined to comment.

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