Russia made a possible first step towards long-delayed approval of the Kyoto global warming pact Thursday as the government submitted ratification documents for ministerial approval.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration, which has hesitated for years over whether to give final approval to the embattled treaty, ordered five ministries to consider the ratification, the Interfax news agency reported.
Ecologists hailed the move, which clears a hurdle towards submitting the protocol for ratification by the Russian parliament, but warned that powerful opponents within the government would still try to sabotage the decision.
"President Putin has ordered his government to move ahead with ratification. This is a hugely important step," Alexei Kokorin, head of the WWF conservation group in Russia, told AFP.
"But it is an internal government order which can be reversed. It is not a binding international commitment," he added.
The pact, signed in 1997 in the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto, cannot enter into force without Russia's agreement after the United States rejected it in one of the first decisions made in office by President George W. Bush.
The natural resources ministry became the first to give its approval. Ministry spokesman Rinat Gizatulin said that ratification of the protocol would not harm the interests of Russia, Interfax reported.
The trade and economic development ministry, whose head German Gref is one of the main backers of Kyoto, also lent its weight, a spokesman saying that it "supports the idea of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol."
The documents were also received by three other ministries: industry and energy, finance and justice.
The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialised signatory countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, the carbon-based pollution that is a by-product of burning fossil fuels and which is blamed for driving climate change.
Kyoto's champion is the European Union, which in arduous negotiations to complete the treaty's rulebook in 2001 offered huge concessions to Japan, Canada and Russia, saving Kyoto from the scrapheap after Washington's pullout.
But to the dismay and anger of the EU, Putin has blown hot and cold. In September 2002, he declared Russia intended to ratify, although he did not set a date for this.
A year later, he backtracked somewhat, saying he would "examine the question in minute detail" to determine whether the protocol "was in line with Russia's national interests."
In his latest public utterance, on May 21, at a summit with the EU, Putin pledged to "accelerate our efforts" to ratify the deal.
Behind the scenes, according to informed sources in Moscow, a ferocious battle is being waged among Russian supporters and defenders of Kyoto, with each side battling for Putin's ear.
Putin's economic advisor, Andrei Illarionov, is well known for his hostility to Kyoto. He argues that without the United States as a purchaser of emissions, the carbon market will fall flat, leaving Russia without the windfall it expected.
"The final word rests with Putin, it is a personal decision for the president who will take into account Russia's geopolitical interests. The whole affair has been very bad for Russia's image," said Kokorin of the WWF.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.