A senior adviser to President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he had been speaking on behalf of the Russian leader when he said two days ago that Moscow could not ratify the protocol in its current form.

"The statement I made two days ago repeated word for word what the Russian president said at his meeting with EU representatives," Putin's top adviser on economic issues, Andrei Illarionov, told a news conference on Thursday.

The Kremlin aide flatly dismissed a statement the evening before by the country's deputy trade and economic development minister who had insisted that Moscow was moving towards ratification of the pact on reducing greenhouse emissions.

"There are no disagreements between the Kremlin and the government. Quite simply, the trade and economic development ministry official who spoke about this yesterday evening was wrong," said Illarionov.

Limit on growth

The deputy minister, Mukhamed Tsikanov, had backed away from Illarionov's rejection of the Kyoto protocol, insisting that "there are no decisions on ratification of the Kyoto Protocol apart from the fact that we are moving towards ratification."

The Kremlin aide on Tuesday stunned other countries by saying that Russia was not ready to ratify the agreement.

"Quite simply, the trade and economic development ministry official who spoke about this yesterday evening was wrong"

Andrei Illarionov,
economic adviser to President Putin

"In its current form, the Kyoto Protocol places significant limitations on the economic growth of Russia. Of course, in its present form, this protocol cannot be ratified," Illarionov said.

His comments came as delegates from 180 countries met in Milan, Italy, to examine the future of the Kyoto accord, regarded by environmental protection groups as a key instrument in curbing global warming.

Key signatory

Russian ratification of the Kyoto accord is needed to bring it into force worldwide, but since indicating at a world summit in Johannesburg last year that it would probably ratify the deal, Moscow has issued mixed signals on the subject.

With the world's biggest single polluter, the United States, rejecting the accord, the agreement can only take effect under its complex ratification rules after it has been approved by Russia's parliament.

Russia, which is the world's third-largest polluter after the United States and China, stands to be a major beneficiary from the accord.

The cash-strapped country already emits a third less carbon dioxide than it did a decade ago because of the decline of its heavy industry, giving it emission permits that it can sell to Western countries.