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Derek Brower: Russia’s Eco-Warrior Fall Guy

“Everyone’s equal,” said Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of Russia’s energy watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, last week. He was referring to the charges he was so instrumental in bringing against Sakhalin Energy. However true the allegations of environmental abuses by Shell and its partners building Sakhalin’s LNG plant, everyone knew that underneath it all lay Gazprom’s ambition to get control of the project. Mitvol, they said, was doing the legwork for the Kremlin.

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Now, it seems, Mitvol’s words are coming back to haunt him. Everyone is indeed equal in Putin’s energy state. And when your use to the state has expired, so has your job. According to reports from Interfax and Reuters today, Mitvol’s boss at Rosprirodnadzor, Sergei Sai, has asked for “disciplinary measures” to be taken against his deputy. The ministry of environment has confirmed the reports. Mitvol is likely to be sacked. Will the charges against Sakhalin Energy now be dropped? Probably. Gazprom will be happy that the project it now controls will proceed without Mitvol’s watchful gaze on it. Conveniently, this will allow Russia to say that Rosprirodnadzor’s over-zealous defence of Sakhalin’s marine wildlife and forests was just the wild fixation of one eco-warrior. And happily for Gazprom, now the largest shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, it won’t have to spend any money paying the $30bn in fines that Mitvol said consortium owes. All companies are equal in Putin’s Russia. But some are more equal than others.