Following a wave of public protests, President Dmitry Medvedev in August ordered the highway construction suspended so the route could be reassessed, but in December the Kremlin decided to allow the highway to go ahead along the original route. Those involved in the construction are reported to have high-level government connections, and highway construction is one of the most corrupt industries in Russia.
Alla Chernysheva's detention Thursday with her daughters, aged 3 and 6, came on the same day as authorities announced highway construction will begin in March.
Chernysheva, 35, was arrested on suspicion of taking a fake bomb to a Feb. 1 protest rally, according to police. Her supporters said she is innocent, and called the detention the latest attempt to make sure the start of the construction isn't threatened.
"It's all a lie," said Yevgeniya Chirikova, the leader of the group defending Khimki forest. "We are seeing the start of a new trend against our movement ... only Hitler would use such tactics."
Police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev told The Associated Press that Chernysheva was in custody but hadn't been officially arrested.
"It's not an arrest, it's just her delivery to the police station for clarification," he said, adding that Chernysheva wasn't cooperating. "She's playing the fool."
Gildeyev said the children were at the police station at their mother's insistence only.
Chirikova said police dispersed the Feb. 1 rally, which both she and Chernysheva attended, because of a bomb threat. Chirikova said there was an unattended plastic bag at the protest but no one at the rally came near it.
Journalists reporting on the Khimki forest have been brutally beaten, their skulls cracked and limbs broken. Environmentalist Konstantin Fetisov remains hospitalized and unconscious since being severely beaten in November.
Oleg Kashin, a reporter for the newspaper Kommersant, was hit some 50 times by two thugs in an attack last year that was caught on a security camera and outraged the nation.
Mikhail Beketov, the founder and editor of a Khimki newspaper, was among the first to raise the alarm about the destruction of the forest and suspicions that local officials were profiting from the project. In November 2008, Beketov was beaten so viciously that he was left brain-damaged and unable to speak.