April 14, 2009
Mitvol Quits Ecological Agency in Disgust
By Maria Antonova, Courtney Weaver
Outspoken state environmental regulator Oleg Mitvol resigned Monday, just a month after appearing to have won an eight-month battle to hang onto his post.
Mitvol said he had decided to leave his position as deputy head of the Federal Inspection Service for Natural Resources Use because of his growing frustration with the organization's impotence but that he was open to the idea of remaining in public service.
"If I receive an interesting employment offer from the government, I will take it," Mitvol told The Moscow Times. "What I'm looking for right now is not a paycheck, but [real] work."
Mitvol, whose environmental investigation into Royal Dutch Shell in 2006 ultimately forced the company to hand over its Sakhalin-2 project to Gazprom, has acted as the face of the agency for much of his five-year tenure.
Vilified by international companies, he has earned praise from environmental groups for his efforts to raise awareness about the environment, an issue that only began receiving attention from the Kremlin last June. Mitvol said Monday that he would remain involved in environmental activities.
The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, which oversees his watchdog, said Monday that it had approved Mitvol's request for an extended vacation beginning April 27 and consequent resignation. The ministry has not yet chosen a replacement.
Mitvol submitted his resignation the same day that he learned that he would be receiving a salary raise from April 15 -- a benefit he felt was undeserved given how little the watchdog has accomplished recently, he said.
"For the last eight months, we did not take part in any court cases or lead any serious inspections," he said. "We receive a lot of requests, and we aren't doing anything about them. I feel guilty receiving a paycheck since I am not actually helping people."
Another deputy at the agency, Alexei Akulov, said in a statement Monday that Mitvol was discrediting the agency by "exaggerating a normal staff situation" and that "government officials like Mitvol discredit government service." He said Mitvol's departure was good for the agency because he had been receiving a salary without fulfilling his duties.
The agency has been at a standstill since last September, when its chief, Vladimir Kirillov, succeed in eliminating one of the four deputy positions, Mitvol said. Kirillov and Mitvol had been clashing for months, and the move was widely seen at the time as an attempt to eliminate Mitvol.
Seven months later, another deputy, Ivan Klemenkov, resigned unexpectedly to take on a job as chief of staff for the prefect of Moscow's Western Administrative District. It was unclear Monday whether Klemenkov would be interested in returning to the agency, and calls to his current place of work went unanswered.
Mitvol said he had not received any employment offers yet but had decided to quit after talking to his wife, mother and 12-year-old daughter over the weekend.
Greenpeace campaign director Ivan Blokov, who has worked with Mitvol for about three years, said the deputy had been unhappy with his position for a while and had not been able to go on work trips or write reports for the past few months.
Blokov praised Mitvol as the lone government official of his rank who tried, with various levels of success, to keep some acute issues from being silenced. "It seems that he was genuinely fed up with the situation in the agency," Blokov said.
Mitvol said he would continue his environmental involvement in organizations such as Green Alternative, which he founded this winter. Last month, the organization's candidate, Dmitry Belanovich, won the mayoral election in Mozhaisk, a small town in the western part of the Moscow region.
Previously, Mitvol considered joining Yabloko but ultimately clashed with the liberal opposition party's leadership over its internal reforms.
While Mitvol could not suggest names of people who might be called on to fill his role, he said the agency did not have the best track record, noting that it had briefly appointed an official in Irkutsk before learning that he had a criminal record. It is these sort of inherent problems that signal that the organization is broken, Mitvol said, adding, "It's impossible to go anywhere in a car that doesn't work."