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Reuters: Russia appoints new environmental watchdog head

Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:09pm GMT

MOSCOW, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Tuesday appointed a long-time ally to head the country’s top environmental watchdog, ignoring calls by Greenpeace to clarify his record. The government said Vladimir Kirillov had been appointed to head the agency, Rosprirodnadzor, which is part of the Natural Resources Ministry. He will replace Sergei Sai, who tendered his resignation earlier this month.

Rosprirodnadzor’s role has risen significantly in recent years due to its involvement in a number of disputes with big foreign companies. Analysts say the agency often uses environmental claims as a fig leaf to help state companies regain bigger stakes in large projects.

The appointment came despite calls from Greenpeace for the government to clarify Kirillov’s involvement in the distribution of land for luxury villas in an ecologically sensitive area in the Leningrad region, where Kirillov was first deputy governor.

The environmental group raised the question on its Web site.

Kirillov could not immediately be reached for comment and the ministry declined to comment.

St Petersburg is the home town of President Vladimir Putin and most of Russia’s political elite comes either from the city or the Leningrad region that surrounds it. Russian media reported Kirillov and Zubkov worked together in the 1990s.

Rosprirodnadzor has accused Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research) of billions of dollars of environmental violations on the island of Sakhalin, but pressure subsided after Shell agreed to cede control of its $22 billion Sakhalin-2 project to state gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research).

(Reporting by Tanya Mosolova)

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