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Russian Eco-Regulator Quits to Lead Green Movement


APRIL 15, 2009

MOSCOW — A prominent Russian environmental regulator known for his fierce campaign against Royal Dutch Shell PLC resigned to lead a political opposition movement, complaining that his bosses had lost their appetite for his high-profile attacks on environmental violators.

Oleg Mitvol, who was appointed deputy director of Russia’s Environmental Protection Agency by the government in 2004, said he was resigning to lead a new “green” movement that would challenge Kremlin candidates in local elections. He said he could focus on the same issues just as well from outside government, harnessing public concern about environmental issues.

“The ecological sphere must be politicized,” Mr. Mitvol said. His new movement, Green Alternative, plans to field at least 100 candidates in municipal elections in October, he said. One Green Alternative candidate has already won the job of mayor of a town outside Moscow after thrashing the ruling United Russia party last month.

Mr. Mitvol, 42 years old, sprang to global prominence in 2006 when he accused Royal Dutch Shell of a string of environmental failings at its giant Sakhalin II oil and gas project in Russia’s Far East. Under pressure from Mr. Mitvol and other Russian officials, Shell, which had a 55% stake in the project, sold control to state-controlled OAO Gazprom. Shell now owns a 27.5% stake in the project.

Shell denied Mr. Mitvol’s allegations; when Gazprom took charge, his campaign ended, fueling suspicions that the battle had been political, not ecological, analysts say.

Mr. Mitvol strongly denies that his decisions at the agency have ever been Kremlin-orchestrated. He says Kremlin officials warned him more than once that his high-profile criticism of multinationals was scaring off foreign investors and that he should desist.

The Environmental Protection Agency is part of the ministry of natural resources. The ministry said through a spokesman that it accepted Mr. Mitvol’s resignation. The spokesman declined further comment.

Mr. Mitvol’s supporters in Russia’s green movement say they are grateful to him for bringing previously ignored environmental issues to national prominence.

“Overall, his role has been quite positive,” says Igor Chestin, director of the World Wildlife Fund in Russia.

Alexei Yablokov, widely regarded as the founding father of Russia’s green movement, describes Mr. Mitvol as politically ambitious but says he’s acquired real expertise in environmental matters.

Neither man was optimistic about the prospects for Mr. Mitvol’s new movement.

“He [Mr. Mitvol] thinks that money and public-relations spin can achieve anything,” says Mr. Yablokov. “But he’ll come up against the Kremlin and big business.”

Write to Andrew Osborn at [email protected]

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