TCS Daily

Greenwashing Putin

By Carlo Stagnaro - February 9, 2005 12:00 AM

Historians will remember Russian President Vladimir Putin for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones might be that he has found a politically correct way to be politically incorrect. He understands that political correctness is only a matter of style. The substance of what you do is virtually irrelevant. How else to explain the otherwise inexplicable attitude of the European Union towards him and the Russian Federation.

Putin's repressive response to Chechen terrorism culminated in the Beslan tragedy, which resulted in more than 700 casualties, most of them civilians. Putin blamed a mass killing on weak national security after, or perhaps because of, the fall of the Soviet Union. But while European criticism of Putin's anti-terror methods was once very vocal, as Beslan unfolded EU leaders kept a low profile. And they did the same on a number of occasions when Putin used the apparatus of state to get rid of political opponents. For example, even though there was a widespread condemnation of the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- Russia's richest man, the head of oil giant Yukos, and a funder of the political opposition to Putin - there were few protests from Western countries when China lent $6 billion to help finance the nationalization of Yukos itself. And nobody protested when, with almost no notice, the former Chief Economic Adviser to the Kremlin, Andrei Illarionov, was "relieved of his responsibilities" as Russian representative to the G8.

Why did Europe's attitude towards Russia change, and when was the turning point?

Then there was Putin's bizarre U-turn on ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Russia's green light was necessary for the climate treaty to enter in force globally, but it represented an abrupt U-turn from a formerly free-market-oriented economic policy. With Russia finally on its side, the EU could, and did, isolate US opposition to mandatory reductions of greenhouse gases emissions. In fact, Illarionov, who had been highly critical of Kyoto and had advised Putin strongly against ratification, might be a sort of sacrificial victim, let go to show how "well intentioned" Putin is. Probably he went too far in criticizing the President for the Yukos affair. So he was working on borrowed time, anyway.

As Illarionov himself admitted, in the short run the Kyoto protocol may be a good move for Moscow. Since the reference year is 1990, Russia's emissions are already below the Kyoto targets - partly because 1990 data were fake as they refer to the production "successes" that the USSR liked to use as propaganda, partly because the inefficient Soviet industry has improved technically, and pollutes less than it did in the past. So Russia can earn big money by selling its emission credits. But a few years from now things will be different: economic growth and emissions cuts are incompatible, so Russia will have either to reduce both emissions and growth, or pay fines. Or there may be a third way: just ignore Kyoto. After all, the EU has no way to enforce it, and Putin has proven quite willing to handle his commitments in the same way he treats the rule of law: by treading on it.

True, this is not very politically correct. But if you have jailed a rich man who used to be the head of an oil giant, then maybe it's ok. After all, who cares of what may happen three years from now when you've publicly committed yourself to saving the world in 2100?



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