The Boston Globe,May 22, 2004
MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, bolstered by a breakthrough trade agreement with European leaders, reversed Moscow's position on an ambitious worldwide environmental pact yesterday by promising quick ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
After forging a deal with the European Union that should ease Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, Putin said the Kremlin would move rapidly to ratify the 1997 Kyoto agreement on limiting the emissions from power plants and automobiles, which many scientists say contribute to global warming.
Until Putin's abrupt U-turn at a summit with EU leaders yesterday, doubts had mounted that Moscow, which has held the deciding vote on the climate change pact since the United States pulled out of the agreement in 2001, might never ratify Kyoto.
Leading Russian scientists had told Putin this week that Kyoto would damage Russia's economy and would not significantly reduce global warming. Putin's key economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, has called the treaty an ''economic Auschwitz" that would wreck the Kremlin's ambition to double its gross domestic product in 10 years.
Analysts have widely speculated the Kremlin has been resisting EU pressure to ratify Kyoto as a tactic to win better terms from European leaders in WTO talks, which had dragged on for six years. Putin has made entry into the organization, which sets rules on international trade, a priority.
Putin, in a Kremlin briefing with EU leaders, confirmed that his change of stance on Kyoto was linked to the successful trade talks.
''The fact that the EU has met us halfway in negotiations on the WTO could not but have helped Moscow's positive attitude to the question of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol," Putin said.
Russian and European leaders were eager for success at the summit, the first since 10 new countries joined the EU, including eight that were Moscow's satellites until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
''The European Union and Russia are like vodka and caviar. The truth is I don't know who is the vodka and who is the caviar, but we are moving in the right direction," Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, told reporters.
Both sides acknowledged making concessions to seal an agreement to help ensure Putin's goal of agreeing on terms to enter the WTO by the end of the year. Russia would be the organization's 148th member and the last major economy to join.
Putin said Russia remained concerned over the changes EU expansion and WTO membership would bring and stopped short of committing to a timetable for Kyoto ratification.
''I cannot say how things will be 100 percent, because ratification is not an issue for the president but for parliament, but we will speed up this process," said Putin. But there was little doubt that Russia's parliament, dominated by Putin loyalists, would approve the treaty.
The Kyoto agreement cannot come into force unless developed nations responsible for 55 percent of gas emissions ratify it. Russia accounts for 17 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by developed nations, and Russia's ratification will lift the total emitted by participating nations to 61 percent.
Prodi, in a gesture to Moscow's sensitivity about Europe's expansion to its borders, promised Putin that Brussels would ensure that new members Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, all former Soviet republics, observe the rights of Russian-speaking minorities. He also said the EU would help develop Russia's westernmost Kaliningrad enclave, which is sandwiched between new EU members Poland and Lithuania.
European leaders also avoided the issues that have divided Russia and the EU at previous summits, particularly concerns about human rights and media freedoms in Putin's Russia and alleged war crimes and abuse in the Kremlin's campaign against separatists in Chechnya. That result was bound to disappoint activists such as New York-based Human Rights Watch, which this week said that European leaders should link economic partnership to ''concrete human rights commitments from the Russian government."
Instead, yesterday's summit took the pragmatic approach that a recent report by the Center for European Reform said had begun to characterize relations between Moscow and Brussels.
''The EU's main goal is to nudge Russia along the path of economic reform and democratization," said the report. Putin sees the EU, whose members account for half of Russia's foreign trade, ''as a way of strengthening the domestic economy through trade and, to a lesser extent, investment."
The four-page trade agreement with the EU was a critical milestone, which analysts said would help Moscow strike similar deals with other WTO members, such as the United States.
Russian and European negotiators were able to boil down disagreements over 160 issues to three or four that concern Russia's huge gas monopoly.
EU leaders say artificially low gas prices in Russia act as a hidden subsidy that gives Russian companies unfair advantages in trade with the EU. Putin has argued that the country with the world's largest gas reserves deserved such advantages.