A Gift for the Kremlin Conspiracy Theorists

Yulia Latynina (*)
The Moscow Times

Russia will ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which is aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

The international treaty is a big deal for the exponentially multiplying eurocracy. It's hard to imagine a more pleasant task for a bureaucrat than calculating how much smoke is in the air using outdated mathematical models and with the certain knowledge that reducing the amount of this smoke will do no one any harm. The Kyoto Protocol doesn't affect Russia one way or the other. We obviously won't exceed our emissions limit in the treaty, and we won't be able to sell the unused portion of our quota because Western Europe will buy up all the extra quotas it needs from fellow European Union members in Eastern Europe. At best the regime might be able to blame Kyoto for shortfalls in economic growth.

The EU has come down hard on President Vladimir Putin for Chechnya, Beslan and Yukos, and now he wants to buy his way back into Europe's good graces by ratifying Kyoto. This is good news if for no other reason than it means the Kremlin still cares what the West has to say.

The West is the most important factor now restraining Putin's authoritarian bent. Not that the West is terribly worried about Russia, of course. As Mikhail Delyagin has said, "If blood started flowing through the oil pipelines tomorrow, the only thing the West would complain about is the presence of a foreign substance in their petroleum."

In the West, society adheres to rituals. People in tennis shoes aren't admitted to formal receptions, and dictators aren't invited to George W. Bush's ranch.

Putin likes to tell his inner circle about the time he spent with Bush on the ranch. But not all of the president's buddies are fond of hearing this story. They've never been to Crawford, and the fact that Putin does visit the Bush ranch means that his henchmen can't dispense with Mikhail Khodorkovsky as Stalin once dispensed with Nikolai Bukharin.

Have you ever wondered who ordered the massive recent PR campaign about South Ossetia? It seems unlikely that the Kremlin decided to stand up for the contraband-trafficking peacekeepers guarding the Roksky tunnel. If Russia had come to blows with Georgia over South Ossetia, the only sure result would have been bad blood between Putin and the West, which would have had little patience for Russian aggression against its southern neighbor.

The theory of a Western conspiracy against Russia is almost as popular in the Kremlin as the old theory of a Khodorkovsky-led conspiracy against Putin. The president said the Beslan tragedy was not the result of the Chechen war, but the work of dark forces trying to tear Russia apart.

And now, suddenly, the Kyoto Protocol.

It turns out the president still cares about Europe's opinion -- as least as a counterweight to America's.

I'm troubled by something else. In international affairs, unfavorable concessions are opening gambits, not goodwill gestures. And if they're not, the person who makes them will earn not gratitude for his generosity but scorn for his stupidity.

The Kyoto Protocol was certainly not Putin's only bargaining chip in his dealings with Europe. But no bargaining seems to have taken place. The president simply made Europe a generous gift.

In return, Europe could only offer its silence on the Yukos affair and Chechnya. But this gift will not be forthcoming, if only because Schroeder and Chirac can't muzzle Europe's journalists, much less its voters.

When no gift arrives, the conspiracy theorists will triumph. After all, no one behaves more stupidly than the person who presents his neighbors with unsolicited gifts, and no one feels betrayal more keenly than the person who receives nothing in return.

(*) Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.