Reshuffle at Russian Natural Resources Ministry set to skewer government’s only environmentalist

Митволь может оставить свой пост.

Publish date: June 21, 2008

Written by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG – Political clouds are hovering on the horizon for Oleg Mitvol, the first deputy of Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry – and the lone environmentalist in a highly placed Russian government position - as a new list of the ministry’s management comes out on Tuesday.

At present, Mitvol, the Ministry of Natural Resources’ head ecologist has already been stripped of a number of his powers – the ministry chief Vladmir Kirillov has reassigned Mitvol’s oversight of ecological, water and land issues to three of his deputies, effectively leaving him with no mandate.

He has even been moved out of his own office.

But Mitvol has vowed to fight prior to the new staff list that will be decided on Tuesday.

“I am included in the latest variant of the staff list as of today, but I have not been assigned any functions,” he told RIA Novosti on Friday, adding: “I will work even if it’s in a small office, even on a bench, even in a hammock hung on the fourth story.”

The stripping of Mitvol’s powers and the apparent moves toward giving him the boot have caused concern in Russia’s environmental circles.

Head of the Green Faction of the Yabloko opposition political party, Alexei Yablokov – Russia’s most eminent environmentalists – said that the apparent move against Mitvol is another apparent attempt by Russian government higher-ups to move Russian policy in an anti-environmental direction, Yablokov told Bellona Web.

“If President (Dmitry) Medvedev’s words about ecology were true, he must create a federal agency for natural preservation that is independent of the Natural Resources Ministry,” said Yablokov.

“And Prime Minister (Vladimir) Putin should have named as as the head of this agency Mitvol, who by his actions and organisational skills his desire to defend Russian nature in a situation of general de-ecologising of government policy,” he continued.

Yablokov asserted that the rearguard move against Mitvol was a boon to illegal loggers, construction firms and oil and gas barons want to see him gone. The decision befits “all those who break the law and try all the harder to rip off what they can of (the country’s) natural resources,” he said, adding that “finally they are getting rid of that obnoxious bureaucrat who works by the rules.”

Yablokov credited Mitvol with informing Russian society about the true conditions behind illegal development along lakes and rivers and the handing out of incredibly valuable land in the Moscow region for ludicrously low prices.

“If not for Oleg Mitvol, the Baikal Central Rehabilitation Bureau would not have taken pains to begin real action to cease the dumping of poison into Lake Baikal,” he said. Yablokov said Mitvol was the most active natural preservation official in contemporary government.

Alexander Nikitin, head of Bellona’s St. Petersburg office, said Mitvol proved an inconvenient bedfellow for his colleagues at the Natural Resources Ministry.

“All the dacha (summer home) scandals, The Baikal Cellulose Pulp Combine – they were all tied to Mitvol. He is not only an inconvenient official but a public figure,” said Nikitin.

“What goes into the Natural Resources Ministry is big money, and big money likes silence. Mitvol didn’t like silence, so many predicted he and his new boss would not see eye to eye. It’s a pity that they are taking Mitvol out of the picture. They will put a silent figure in his place, but such oversight structures need people who are not silent and stand up for principle rule of law,” said Nikitin.

Mitvol has had a pugilistic past at the ministry and has not been shy about leveling criticism that often fell within his own offices. Taking his deputy post in 2004, he began a campaign to root out corruption, which often resulted in him flinging poisoned darts at his own bosses.

One of his biggest achievements was the so-called Dacha War in which he set out to bulldoze summer homes built in specially protected water areas, a successful campaign that saw many of Russia’s favorite sons, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, losing their opulent summer getaways as they were transferred to state property.

Renata Goroshkova reported from St. Petersburg, and Charles Digges wrote and reported from Oslo.