MOSCOW - Russia signed a landmark trade agreement with Europe yesterday in a deal President Vladimir V. Putin said will encourage Russia to "speed up" consideration of the Kyoto global warming treaty.
Giving a boost to European hopes that Russia might bring the protocol to reduce greenhouse gases back from the brink of failure, Putin said agreement with Europe on the trade pact - which could significantly boost Russia's hopes for joining the World Trade Organization - will prompt Moscow to move quickly toward a ratification vote on the Kyoto accord.
"This cannot but have a positive influence on our attitude toward the Kyoto protocol," Putin said. "We will speed up Russia's moves toward ratifying the protocol. ... We are for the Kyoto process; we back it."
Putin stopped short of pledging a positive vote on ratification, cautioning that his government still has some concerns over the obligations it would undertake under the treaty. He also said it is still "not 100 percent certain" parliament would endorse the international agreement. "That there was a deal at all indicates very clearly that there was horse-trading going on," said a senior Western economic analyst based in Moscow, who requested anonymity. The analyst added that Putin's positive statements about Kyoto "means they're basking in a moment of glory. They'll do whatever they want to do later."
However, economist Michael Delyagin, chairman of the Institution of Globalization Problems, said it is clear that Russia struck a deal, agreeing to move forward on Kyoto as the price of winning European trade concessions on natural gas pricing and other issues.
"What Putin said about the ratification of the Kyoto protocol means [yesterday's] summit was not Russia's diplomatic victory at all - in fact, Russia has paid for its accession to the WTO by giving up its positions on Kyoto," Delyagin said.
Without Russia's signature, there is little hope for adoption of the 1997 protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States' decision not to participate has left Europe pushing Russia to sign on, despite Moscow's misgivings that the treaty will not provide the economic benefits for which it once hoped.
In an interview with Echo of Moscow radio this week, Richard Wright, head of the EU's delegation in Moscow, said Kyoto ratification could mean substantial new gas-saving infrastructure investment and thus could open the way for significant European investment in Russia. Some analysts also believe that Putin's nation could sell surplus carbon "credits" - earned because of the collapse of production in Russia since the treaty's benchmark year in 1990 - worth as much as $10 billion.
"We believe it's in Russia's ecological interests; we believe it's in Russia's economic interests, and therefore, we very much hope that Russia ... will ratify the protocol," Wright said.
Kyoto critics in the Kremlin fear that compliance with the treaty's rules could reduce Russia's economic growth by as much as 1 percent a year.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.