MOSCOW — Key ministries of the Russian government Thursday began the process of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, signaling that President Vladimir V. Putin was preparing to put the landmark global warming treaty to a vote in parliament.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes meetings aimed at weighing costs and benefits — including Russia's possible admission this year to the World Trade Organization — Putin directed his Cabinet ministers to "sign as soon as possible" the draft ratification documents, the first step toward allowing Russia to join the 1997 accord.
The Natural Resources Ministry approved the documents Thursday, but the Economic Development and Trade Ministry called for more study of the economic consequences, indicating that a fight was possible before ratification could occur. Still, environmental activists said they hoped the issue could be presented to parliament within the next several weeks.
Russia's participation is a crucial step toward implementation of the protocol, which requires participating industrialized countries to cut their emissions of "greenhouse gases," blamed for what many scientists think could be a precipitous change in global climate.
The protocol, which cannot take effect unless Russia signs it, aims to reduce greenhouse gases to 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012.
Analysts cautioned that Russia's ratification was not certain until the final package cleared parliament and was presented to Putin for signature — a warning that reflected the deep divisions in Russia over the benefits of implementing the treaty.
Russia has hesitated for a year over joining the Kyoto camp, weighing fears of strangled economic growth against promises of new foreign industrial investment and sales of emission credits.
One of Putin's top economic advisors, Andrei Illarionov, has repeatedly echoed the criticisms of U.S. officials who chose not to join the protocol because they believed it would take a heavy economic toll without providing the promised ecological benefits.
However, European trade partners have raised Kyoto ratification as an implied condition for WTO membership and for European concessions on Russia's lower-than-market domestic energy pricing, a key factor in keeping Russian industry not only competitive but able to attract foreign investment for the major modernization projects envisioned under the protocol.
Alexander Kosarikov, deputy chairman of the parliament's ecology committee, said the Foreign Ministry had prepared documents for ratification and the process was underway.
"I would speak of this as a fait accompli with great caution, but my opinion, and I think it is shared by a number of deputies, is that the time to ratify the Kyoto Protocol has come," Kosarikov said.
Sources familiar with the Kremlin's deliberations said Illarionov launched a major campaign against the protocol in late summer, even persuading Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov to come out against ratification any time soon.
Then, on Sept. 8, Putin aide Igor Shuvalov met with several experts and academicians, and it was decided to send Illarionov's anti-Kyoto report to a number of experts and economists for reaction.
"Apparently, President Putin has been asking himself the question of whether Illarionov's arguments are tenable, sound and well-grounded," said Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, a professor with the Russian Academy of Sciences and a key backer of Kyoto ratification who was at the meeting.
"From what Shuvalov was doing and saying, I was able to conclude that there has been a change in the president's stance on the Kyoto Protocol ratification in the positive direction," he said.
Alexey Kokorin, the World Wildlife Fund's climate change program coordinator in Russia, said Shuvalov brought the issue back to Putin himself Sept. 11 at his dacha at Novo-Ogarevo. "As a result of that meeting, there was a precise instruction to start a physical ratification of the protocol," he said.
First Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin was ordered to prepare a package of ratification documents and forward them to the heads of key ministries, including Natural Resources, Economic Development and Trade, Industry and Energy, Finance, Justice and the state hydrometeorology service.
An accompanying letter, a translated copy of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, says that "according to the commitment the president of the Russian Federation gave at the meeting in Novo-Ogarevo on 11 September 2004, we deliver for your compliance the package of documents on ratification of Kyoto Protocol
"Please sign as soon as possible the attached drafts," the letter instructs.
But the controversy was obvious Thursday, as the Industry and Energy Ministry told the Itar-Tass news agency that it had sent a report to Putin suggesting that Russia shouldn't rush to ratify before evaluating all the possible consequences.
"The current level of calculations is not sufficient enough to establish the efficiency of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol," the ministry said.
© 2004 Los Angeles Times