Building political and journalistic bridges on a visit to Russia
Oleg Mitvol is an old friend of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Russia. We have worked closely with him on the White Sea seal hunt, stray cats and dogs in Moscow, threats to tigers and the last 120+ western gray whales off Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East.
Mr Mitvol is a power house figure in Russian politics which perhaps explains why sometimes he seems to be in favour with the powers that be and is sometimes seemingly out of favour. Wherever he stands, he has a track record of advocating strongly for animal welfare and conservation issues.
That's why when he requested that the UK Director be one of the key note speakers at the launch of his new Russian Green Alliance political party, IFAW's Russian Director and I agreed it would be good for me to go.
The event was in the city of Mozhaisk about 100km outside Moscow. After braving perhaps one of the world's most congested road systems we got there almost three hours later. Mr Mitvol had assembled more than 150 delegates from well over 60 regions across Russia to come together and officially start the process of filing for registration of his new party.
To do this, he needed at least 45 regional delegates, so he was clearly well on his way in the process. It’s only in recent months, and arguably in response to the recent public demonstrations in Moscow, that Russian laws have enabled new parties such as the Green Alliance to be formed. As I said in my speech "IFAW welcomes the creation of any party that argues for a better understanding and protection of animal welfare and conservation and we wish the Green Alliance well in succeeding in these aims."
At the reception after the meeting, I had a long talk with Mr Mitvol and when I explained that IFAW has been calling on the Left/Green and Social Democrat Government of Iceland to bring about an end to whaling in the country he offered to go to Iceland this summer and discuss the issue with fellow Green Party members.
IFAW's state-of-the-art marine research vessel Song Of The Whale will be visiting Iceland this summer - so it may well be that we will be able to give Mr Mitvol an appropriate platform to stand on as he joins us in a call for the creation of a whale sanctuary off Iceland's Reykjavik coast.
IFAW Russia has recently been meeting with a wide range of international media based in Russia to brief them on our work and upcoming projects. Before I arrived there had been meetings with correspondents from The Times, The Independent, Sky News and Associated Press.
So, the day after the Green Party launch, Masha Vorontsova, the Russian Director, and I took the opportunity to meet the New York Times bureau chief and her staff. And just before I left for the airport we managed to also meet with the UK Guardian newspaper's correspondent in Moscow.
Both meetings were really useful and all the journalists we met agreed that now was the time for them to turn their attention away from the recent political demonstrations and to start looking at some of the good things that had come from them such as the openness to new political parties like Mr Mitvol's Green Alliance and to environmental and animal conservation issues in general.