Mitvol's Boss Seeks His Ouster

Oleg Mitvol, the environmental official who has aggressively targeted foreign oil companies, was struggling to hold on to his job Wednesday after his new boss moved to have him fired.

The struggle between Mitvol and Vladimir Kirillov, head of the Natural Resources Ministry's environmental watchdog, was the strongest sign yet that Kirillov's surprise appointment last month may have been prompted by a desire to rein in the outspoken Mitvol.

Mitvol said he was confident that he would hold on to his position as deputy head of the agency after Kirillov appealed to Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev early Wednesday with the request to fire him.

"This morning, [Kirillov] got lawyers together to try to fire me, but no one could think of a reason. Then he referred it to the minister, but there they also couldn't think of a reason," Mitvol said.

Rinat Gizatulin, a ministry spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday.

Kirillov, a former first deputy St. Petersburg governor, was brought into the ministry in late January, one month after the resignation of Sergei Sai, a career geologist who resigned as head of the environmental watchdog over complaints that he was unable to control his staff.

Mitvol offered his resignation to Trutnev after Kirillov was appointed, but Trutnev rejected it.

Mitvol led high-profile environmental campaigns against Shell and TNK-BP that analysts saw as a means of pressure that eventually coerced the foreign oil companies into selling major stakes to state-run Gazprom.

He has also targeted smaller London-listed firms such as Imperial Energy and Peter Hambro, prompting wide-scale share fluctuations upon threats of revoking production licenses. In most cases, the licenses were not revoked.

The latest struggle began last week when Kirillov introduced a measure requiring his signature on all documents sent to courts or prosecutors, thus curbing Mitvol's power. Mitvol called the measure "illegal" on Wednesday and has urged Trutnev to overturn it.