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Daily Telegraph: Russia’s green ‘hit-man’ says everyone’s equal

EXTRACT: Before moving into politics Mr Mitvol ran a media business, and was majority shareholder in the Russian daily newspaper, Noviye Izvestia, once owned by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. There have been reports that Mr Putin installed Mr Mitvol at the newspaper after the president fell out with Mr Berezovsky.

THE ARTICLE:

By Russell Hotten, Industry Editor
Last Updated: 1:07am GMT 14/12/2006

Oleg Mitvol, the Moscow official pursuing western oil and gas com-panies over alleged environmental violations, insisted he is not being directed by President Vladimir Putin and that his campaign will make Russia a better place for foreign investors.
  
Rusty green? The Molikpaq offshore oil platform, producing up to 70,000 barrels a day, off Sakhalin island
 
The millionaire businessman-turned-“green”-protector said environmental concerns were not “exclusive to western liberals” and that he would press on with legal action against Royal Dutch Shell for up to $30bn (£15bn) in damages.

Any other company causing environmental problems would be made to pay, he said. Mr Mitvol’s campaign has been linked to a Kremlin strategy take back control of energy assets run by Western companies. But in an interview with The Daily Telegraph yesterday, he said he was his “own man”.

“We have laws in Russia. We have rules, and inspectors to make sure those rules are obeyed. Why should that be strange to you [in the west],” said Mr Mitvol, deputy head of the environmental agency, RosPrirodNadzor (RPN).

“It would be the same in your country. If someone has a licence to put a pipeline outside a national park but they put it inside, then that licence should be taken away. We are not a lawless state,” he said.

Along with Shell, other major oil companies including BP and Exxon-Mobil, which is involved in the Sakhalin-1 venture, are in Mr Mitvol’s sights. Shell is about to relinquish control of its Sakhalin-2 gas development to Russian state gas giant Gazprom, which many observers believe is linked to RPN’s threat to revoke licences.

But Mr Mitvol says the two are unrelated. “This is my job. I do not do it for the good of Russian politics,” he said. “Last year I caused a big problem for Russia-China relations when a Chinese chemical spillage contaminated a river. I complained despite knowing that it would not be good for relations.”

Mr Mitvol said he was unhappy about the way he was presented in the western media as Putin’s attack dog. “I am a watch dog, not an attack dog. I am portrayed like a Rottweiler; as someone who couldn’t possibly have any bona fide environmental interest. However, such concern is not the exclusive preserve of western liberals.”

Before moving into politics Mr Mitvol ran a media business, and was majority shareholder in the Russian daily newspaper, Noviye Izvestia, once owned by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

There have been reports that Mr Putin installed Mr Mitvol at the newspaper after the president fell out with Mr Berezovsky.

Mr Mitvol dismissed any close connection with Mr Putin, and said there are “a lot of people at Sakhalin Energy [Shell’s joint venture] who have worked in the Kremlin. My campaign remains the same whoever runs the company”.

And he will not stop if Gazprom takes over, because to do so would give the wrong impression. “I do not want people to think Russia is a banana republic. Many years ago western companies would hand over ‘black money’ and see their problems go away. That can no longer happen.

“If Russia’s position is clear, if we uphold the law, then companies will want to invest,” he said.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2006/12/14/cnrussia14.xml

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