Russia Better Off Without Kyoto

It is difficult to imagine that someone who maneuvered to the top of the KGB would fail to recognize his own self-interest.

That’s why it’s hard to credit recent reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has changed his mind and may now be willing to sign the Kyoto climate change treaty – a pact requiring draconian energy cutbacks that would devastate Russia’s economic recovery.

The reports – mostly by British journalists firmly allied with global warming alarmists – more likely are part of a last-gasp lobby to impose Kyoto’s burdensome mandates on the West while disregarding the full-speed-ahead economies of China and India.

China has more than 1.2 billion people. India more than a billion. These powerhouses compete for another distinction: Which nation can burn the most coal. Whichever wins, both countries will soon be emitting more greenhouse gases than the U.S. and all of Europe combined.

Since two-thirds of Russia lies in Asia, Putin hardly seems likely to concede such an economic advantage to his nearby Asian Tigers – each with a population roughly six times that of Russia.

Such a scheme would knock flat Putin’s ambitious plan to double Russia’s GDP by the end of this decade while gradually increasing its population.

The Soviet Union held more than 290 million people in 1990, the last year of its existence. Following the breakaway of numerous republics, Russia today has a population under 144 million. It currently is losing nearly a million residents a year to emigration.

The only way to keep Russia’s economy chugging ahead and to halt the current brain drain is to unshackle its market from socialist-style regulations – the same stultifying rules Kyoto would re-impose.

Fortunately for Russia, efforts by the European Union to persuade Putin to ratify Kyoto could well be thwarted by the justified skepticism of his astute chief economic adviser Andrei Illarionov.

Russia is poised to break out of the lethargy imposed during 72 years of rule by Lenin, Stalin and their bumbling but lethal successors. A doubling of GNP by the end of the decade is decidedly doable given Russia’s vast petroleum and mineral resources.

Adopting Kyoto’s socialist controls would stifle that growth and slow Russia to the sluggish pace of Old Europe, where bureaucracies soak the hard-working and cater to the indolent.

As Illarionov recently told the BBC: “I’m sure the Kyoto Protocol is not good for Russia, not good for the European Union, not good for Canada and, indeed, not good for the world. Kyoto is not the answer – it’s a first step to destroying not only our economy but the world economy.”

He pointedly observed that the nations that have shunned Kyoto, such as the U.S., Singapore, Taiwan and Australia, are the only ones currently enjoying economic booms.

“Eighty-eight percent of the world’s people live in countries that have not taken any obligations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Illarionov said. “All of the real science – studies and research that can be replicated – shows that global warming itself is either slight or non-existent and that human contributions are nearly infinitesimal compared to the whole.”

Illarionov was even more blunt in a May 18, 2004 speech to Britain’s Adam Smith Institute, saying, “Kyoto would result in an economic ‘holocaust’ for Russia. Kyoto-ism is another example of totalitarian ideology like Marxism, communism and socialism. Russia has imported those ideas from Europe and suffered badly in the 20th century. Kyoto-ism would lead to the creation of bureaucratic monsters at national and supra-national levels that – through allocation of emissions quotas – would be a blow against basic human freedoms and human rights and would decide the fate of nations, companies and people worldwide.”

In the same speech, Illarionov also called the treaty “environmentally-harmful”: “Kyoto harms economic growth, perpetuates poverty, and would undermine everyone’s ability to achieve a cleaner, healthier environment. Therefore, the most important policy for environmental protection is creating the right conditions for economic growth. Kyoto has the opposite effect and is therefore environmentally-harmful.”1

Kyoto true-believers nonetheless are mounting a desperate campaign to pressure America to ratify it, funded in part by Hungarian-born financier George Soros and other fabulously wealthy left-wingers.

The quixotic effort to approve the Climate Stewardship Act – the McCain-Lieberman Kyoto Lite – includes a flurry of specious advocacy and the scientifically-laughable disaster flick “The Day After Tomorrow.”

President Bush, thankfully, already has rejected the Kyoto Treaty and seems unlikely to relent. It may well be time for Bush to call Putin directly and paraphrase the advice former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher once gave his father when the senior Bush began to waiver on the eve of the first Gulf war: “Vladimir, now is no time to go wobbly.”

Amy Ridenour is president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. 


1 Alex Singleton, “Kyoto ‘A Totalitarian Ideology,’ Says Top Putin Advisor,” Adam Smith Institute blog entry of May 18, 2004, downloaded from on May 28, 2004.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.