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Analysis: Trading Hot Air For WTO Support

  • Robert Coalson

Russia's State Duma (file photo) Five and 1/2 years after Russia signed the Kyoto Protocol in March 1999 -- and after two years of fairly intense discussion and, most notably, silence on the part of President Vladimir Putin -- the controversial agreement suddenly sailed through the government and the legislature last month in the space of just a few weeks. The easy passage of the accord demonstrates how effectively the Putin-based political machine can function.

The government somewhat unexpectedly decided on 30 September to submit the agreement to the Duma. When it did so on 7 October, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told RBK that he hoped for ratification before the end of the year.

At that point, the political machine -- including the parties, the state-controlled media, and state officials -- seemed to begin a contested discussion of the matter. Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, a long-time opponent of the accord, issued several sharply worded statements against ratification, saying that adhering to the agreement would make it impossible for Russia to achieve its goal of doubling gross domestic product by 2010.

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 1 October emphasized the "stormy discussion" within the government over the matter, while RTR on 30 September reported that there are "many supporters and many opponents" of the treaty within the government. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that "the debate on this is open" and "likely to be tough" in the Duma.
Most analysts agree that the Kremlin's sudden aggressiveness regarding Kyoto is linked to its desire to secure membership of the World Trade Organization as quickly as possible.


Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) initially provided the most detail about this arduous process. He told "Vedomosti" and other media on 1 October that the agreement would have to be reported on by three Duma committees, including his own, and that the process could not be completed before the end of the year. Duma Economic Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov (Unified Russia) told the daily that the process would probably not be completed earlier than spring 2005.

This schedule clearly did not suit Putin. After receiving on 12 October congratulations from Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on the government's decision, Putin said, "I hope that Canada's position and the support of the prime minister regarding Russia's decision to approve the protocol will be positively reflected in the upcoming discussion in the Russian parliament," according to ITAR-TASS.

After Putin's announcement, the ratification process kicked into gear. One by one, the main Duma committees held perfunctory hearings and endorsed the treaty. On 14 October, the Ecology Committee approved it and the accord was placed on the Duma's agenda for 22 October. That day, after a two-hour discussion, the lower house voted 334-73 with two abstentions to approve the agreement. Five days later, by a vote of 139-1 with one abstention, the Federation Council signed off on the Kyoto Protocol, following a discussion that was not "as loud or contentious as the one in the State Duma," according to Radio Mayak on 27 October.

But why the haste? Most analysts agree that the Kremlin's sudden aggressiveness regarding Kyoto is linked to its desire to secure membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as quickly as possible. The administration has been working actively in many directions in recent months to accelerate the accession process. On 2 November, Maksim Medvedkov, who heads Russia's WTO negotiating team, told journalists Russia will sign accession protocols with five to seven Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization countries during the APEC summit on 18-21 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The countries expected to sign include Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Putin secured China's endorsement of Russia's WTO membership during his trip there last month, during which he signed a controversial border agreement that ceded to Beijing several islands that the two countries had been disputing for decades.

Medvedkov also noted on 2 November that WTO talks with Brazil have been difficult, but said that progress should be expected when Putin travels there later this month. Analysts speculated that Putin's surprising expressions of support for U.S. President George W. Bush in the U.S. presidential election were motivated in part by his desire to secure U.S. support for accelerating Russia's WTO bid.

In Europe, the main obstacle to gaining EU support for Russian WTO membership has been the EU's insistence that Russia increase its domestic energy tariffs to match global levels, a move that Putin has categorically ruled out. At the same time, the EU has been urging Moscow to join Kyoto, because without Russia's participation, the treaty could never come into force, since the United States has rejected it.

Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, wrote in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 20 October that the 11 November Russia-EU summit in The Hague could "signal the beginning of a new stage in the development of relations between the two sides." Writing in "Politicheskii zhurnal," No. 40, Center for Political Technologies Deputy General Director Boris Makarenko claimed that Russia and the EU agreed in advance that the EU would drop its complaints about Russian energy tariffs in exchange for ratification of Kyoto. Now Russia enters the 11 November summit with the ratified protocol in hand and some high expectations.
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    Robert Coalson

    Robert Coalson covers Russia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. Send story tips to coalsonr@rferl.org

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