Russia may be ready to ratify Kyoto treaty on climate change

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Russia may be about to perform a dramatic policy U-turn in ratifying the Kyoto climate change protocol despite months of saying that it would cause irreparable damage to its booming economy.

Such a decision would allow the United Nations treaty to finally become legally binding and leave America isolated on the world stage as an environmental sinner.

An anonymous Kremlin source told the daily Kommersant that the announcement may be made during a two-day visit to Russia by Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, which started yesterday. If Russia's policy shift on Kyoto is not made public during the visit it is likely to emerge at an EU-Russia summit in May.

Diplomatic sources said that the main outstanding element was the scale of compensation given to Moscow for trading in "credits", which were given to nations that did not pollute as much as they were entitled to. Because the US is not taking part in the Kyoto system it will not be buying Russian credits. That has prompted Moscow to demand a better financial regime from the EU, which has campaigned for the protocol.

EU sources said that the press reports in Russia arose from an internal document in the Russian economics ministry which suggested that the credit trading system could be beneficial for the country.

An expert from the Russian branch of Greenpeace told The Independent that the only reason Russia had not yet signed was because it was hoping to extract further concessions from the EU. Russia's ratification of the landmark global warming pact had become "a political game", said Natalia Olsirenko, of Greenpeace. "It is highly probable that the Kremlin will ratify the pact."

A Russian rapprochement with Brussels has been fuelled by recent progress in its negotiations with the EU over Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Putin has so far avoided speaking publicly about the likelihood of Russian ratification, leaving that to his leading adviser on the subject, Andrei Illarionov. Mr Illarionov has been extremely negative about Kyoto, but analysts believe that his often provocative comments on the subject may be part of an elaborate negotiation designed to secure financial compensation from the EU for Russian compliance.

Only last week he sparked outrage among Jewish groups by likening the apparently "deadly" economic consequences of the Kyoto climate change pact to the Nazis' actions at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. "The Kyoto protocol is a death treaty, no matter how strange that seems, because its main purpose is to stifle economic growth and economic activity in countries which assume its responsibilities," he said.