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Moscow's Changing Skyline Sign of Nation's Oil-Fueled Wealth


There are more billionaires living in Moscow these days than anywhere else in the world. Thanks to a booming economy fueled by record high oil prices, the Russian capital is awash in cash. Modern new buildings are rising all over the city, and they are transforming Moscow's look, making some Muscovites worry about the architectural heritage of their city. Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow.

This is the Moscow of the 21st century - apartments, casinos, business centers - a luxurious new face for a city founded nearly 900 years ago.

Behind this tower, another one will emerge soon. The east tower of the Federation Tower complex will be 503 meters high with 93 floors, and an elevator that moves at 64 kilometers an hour. Tens of thousands of Chinese workers came here to work on the project. The tower will be the highest in Europe.

Ara Aramyan is vice president of the company that is building the complex. He says skyscrapers like this are about power. "Wherever the country becomes more or less powerful, rich, the growing countries try to do skyscrapers. You can find it in history in Egypt, you can find it in Babylon. So it's kind of instinct, mankind's instinct try to go to the stars," Aramyan said.

But money matters, too. Going up to the stars is costly. The smallest apartment here, 100 square meters, costs more than $3 million - that is 470 years of the Russian average wage.

But that does not seem to be a problem - the place is sold out. Residential property prices have gone up 400 percent in the last six years.

Architect Nikolai Milovidov says investors rush new new towers. At one, every third apartment is empty. "The customers of all this residential property -- they are not from Moscow, they are from gas and oil regions, they never live here, they just buy meters [of space] in Moscow," he said.

Not so long ago, many families in Moscow shared gloomy communal apartments. This recent property boom is a clear demonstration of Russia's economic growth and the emergence of a middle class.

But to build all this new property, the city needs to clear the space first, and it makes some Muscovites worry about the architectural heritage of the city.

"In the last few years, starting from the year 2000, some 200-300 historic buildings were destroyed every year," explains arts critic Marina Khrustalyova. "It's clear that in the next 10 years they can destroy everything, including the Kremlin."

There are no plans to touch the Kremlin - the traditional symbol of power in Russia. But in 2009, the postcard view of the Russian capital will change. Along with the red stars of the ancient fortress, the view will include the lights of the massive Federation Tower - the new, financial symbol of Russia.