Mitvol's Resignation Rejected

ReutersOleg Mitvol
Oleg Mitvol, the state environmental inspector who led aggressive campaigns against foreign energy companies, abruptly resigned Friday to protest the possible appointment of a new head to his agency.

But Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev refused to accept the resignation, and Mitvol remains in his position as deputy head of the Federal Service for the Inspection of Natural Resources Use.

The back-and-forth appears to be part of a struggle for control of the powerful agency, which has the power to grant and revoke licenses from oil and gas companies working here.

Mitvol said Sunday that he had submitted his resignation after he learned that Vladimir Kirillov, former first deputy governor of the Leningrad region, would take over as head of the environmental agency.

"I don't know him personally, but I have read information published in the media," he said by telephone, pointing to a report by Greenpeace Russia.

Greenpeace Russia circulated a statement Friday that accused Kirillov of illegally approving private construction projects in environmentally protected areas of the Leningrad region when he was a deputy governor there in the late 1990s.

Kirillov could not be reached for comment.

Mitvol said he had not told anyone about his decision to resign and criticized the release of his letter to Trutnev as a provocation. Interfax and Itar-Tass obtained a copy of the letter Friday.

"It was a provocation by those who want me to leave my post, because with my departure some interested people will get the chance to launder a lot of money," Mitvol told Gazeta.ru on Friday. He did not elaborate on the issue Sunday.

But he said he had had a lengthy talk with Trutnev, who had expressed satisfaction with his work and asked him to stay.

A Natural Resources Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Khitrova, said she had heard speculation about Kirillov's pending appointment but could not confirm it.

The environmental agency's head and Mitvol's immediate supervisor, Sergei Sai, tendered his resignation in late December, complaining of a lack of control over his staff, including Mitvol.

Sai said Friday that his resignation letter had yet to be approved by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. He also said he knew nothing of Mitvol's resignation.

Mitvol, who has worked at the agency since 2004, welcomed the news of Sai's resignation when it emerged earlier this month, and he vowed to press on with his checks of possible environment violations by foreign and private Russian energy companies. His previous inspections threatened to strip Shell, ExxonMobil and TNK-BP of key licenses, and the companies were only cleared after they ceded control over lucrative gas and oil fields to the state-owned Gazprom and Rosneft.

In late 2006, Sai asked Trutnev to investigate Mitvol's activities, only to be reprimanded himself for not being zealous enough as an administrator.

RIA-Novosti, citing sources in the Cabinet, reported Friday that Kirillov would soon replace Sai.

It was not clear whether Mitvol's attempt to resign would have any effect on Kirillov's possible appointment.

Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information, said both Sai's and Mitvol's resignations were driven by Gazprom and Rosneft lobbyists in the government who wanted to replace the feuding, controversial but very influential team with less notorious figures.

Mitvol was too outspoken about Sai's resignation and too bluntly tried to promote himself for the position, and that is why the Kremlin has tapped someone else to head the agency, said Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies. "He is bluffing now, but it will not work," she said.

Officials in the Moscow offices of two international oil companies targeted by Mitvol's investigations refused to comment on Friday's developments.

"Well, his resignation letter has not been signed yet," Mukhin said.