Monday, May 24, 2004

"Europe will thank us" says Putin's adviser

On the whole it is unlikely that Europe will thank Russia for anything much, but Andrei Illarionov may be right in saying that the EU will one day realize that not signing the Kyoto Treaty is a very smart move and by effectively killing it off, Russia is saving the Europeans a great deal of unnecessary expense.

So far the interview with Illarionov in the Sunday Telegraph, who describes him as the second most powerful man in Russia seems unexceptionable. He is also completely reasonable in his argument that pollution can be countered only by a strong economy and rich country. Despite Liam Halligan’s rather silly comment about America being an arch polluter, it is quite clear that the the environment is in much better shape in the rich western world than anywhere else.

Russia, according to Mr Halligan is riding high, what with 8 per cent growth and higher oil prices. He also feeds Mr Illarionov with his lines reminding him that the American theory was that oil prices would go down as soon as Iraqi oil will start pumping. Somehow, neither of them gets round to mentioning that the reason that oil is not pumping is various organizations being determined to prevent that development by blowing up pipes and installations. How jolly for all of us, especially Sunday Telegraph journalists and Russian economists.

Russian economic indicators seem absolutely excellent and many people, including the EU, are impressed by President Putin, preferring to forget the slowly mounting offensive on free speech and the free press. The trouble is that economic indicators for the Soviet Union were good until the CIA managed to establish a surveillance system that told us all how poor the Soviet economic achievement was. In fact, that turned out to be an understatement – the situation was far worse.

The idea that human rights and freedom of speech are, while being a desideratum, somehow separate from economic achievement, is seriously flawed. Time and time again it was proved that apart from the moral argument, there is a practical one about freedom: how do you know whether those indicators are at all accurate when public criticism and discussion are being stifled?

Nor is it particularly healthy for an economy to rely entirely on the export of raw material. Oil prices are high at the moment but what will happen if those Iraqi wells do start pumping? And should we not ask ourselves whether Russia’s peace-loving attitude to the Iraqi war had anything to do with those calculations? Or, indeed, with the evidence that certain people not a million miles away from Putin’s cabinet profited from the fraud that surrounded the oil for food programme.

None of this bothers the EU or its leaders. The organization who wants to build a foreign policy entirely on moral foundations seems oblivious to all the problems. All they care about is Russian support for their own foolhardy determination to wreck various developed economies through the badly throught through, economically and scientifically unsound Kyoto Treaty. And there, Mr Illarionov has them where he wants them.

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