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    Outspoken Russian environment official Mitvol demoted - source

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    The head of Russia's environmental regulator has dramatically reduced the role of his outspoken deputy Oleg Mitvol, known for high-profile campaigns against oil companies, a source in the regulator said.

    MOSCOW, June 18 (RIA Novosti) - The head of Russia's environmental regulator has dramatically reduced the role of his outspoken deputy Oleg Mitvol, known for high-profile campaigns against oil companies, a source in the regulator said.

    Mitvol has until now headed the department of Rosprirodnadzor overseeing inspections of forestry, water, and land use. In 2006 he gained international attention by leading a campaign against oil major Shell that led to a lucrative project being sold to Gazprom.

    According to the source, agency chief Vladimir Kirillov has not included Mitvol in his new list of deputies, which is to be approved by Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev. The minister has in the past voiced strong support for Mitvol.

    Mitvol "no longer heads his department, meaning he has lost his main powers ... He has become a freelance worker," the source said.

    Oleg Mitvol confirmed to RIA Novosti that on Monday he moved to a smaller office, which he will be sharing with two other officials. However, he said his job had not changed.

    Kommersant business daily reported that Mitvol could be given a more general role in the environment agency.

    The official was appointed deputy environment chief in April 2004. In late 2006, he brought the government's attention to the damaging development work being carried out through the Sakhalin II oil and gas project in Russia's Far East, then led by Shell.

    He has also led campaigns over ExxonMobil-led Sakhalin-I, the Kovykta gas field developed by TNK-BP, and a pulp mill next to Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    Although in most cases the environmental damage Mitvol has highlighted, including deforestation, toxic waste dumping, and soil erosion, has been well documented by environmental groups, the campaigns have often been portrayed in the Western media as part of the Kremlin's drive to bring key oil and gas assets back under state control.

    Back in 2005, Mitvol gained publicity within Russia with widely reported cases involving pop diva Alla Pugachyova and electricity monopoly chief Anatoly Chubais over their country estates, which Mitvol said had been built without planning permission in water-protection zones, and should be demolished.

    Reports that Kirillov planned to sack Mitvol emerged soon after the new chief's appointment, in January this year.

    One of Krillov's predecessors, Sergei Sai, tried to dismiss Mitvol in late 2006, but was overruled by the natural resources minister.

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