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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Delay On Cleaning Up the Baltic

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It was just last December that President Vladimir Putin flabbergasted the world by confessing his admiration for environmental activists in little rubber boats. "I've always admired people who devote their lives to environmental problems," were his exact words.

Given this, we are optimistic that Russia's recent refusal to endorse an international convention on eliminating persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, is merely — as officials have stated — a diplomatic hiccup that does not signal a reversal of the Kremlin's support for the treaty.

Ironically, Russia last affirmed the treaty publicly in December, just about the same time the president was fanaticizing about a post-Kremlin career chasing whaling ships.

The treaty, which has been signed by more than 90 countries already, including the United States and Canada, obligates signatories to eliminate a number of carcinogenic and other pollutants, most of which are by-products of waste incineration and industrial processes.

For Russia, the implications of the treaty are anything but abstract.

The Baltic Sea — Russia's window onto Europe — is among the most polluted bodies of water on the planet. In fact, the present treaty is the direct result of the 1974 Helsinki Convention to protect the Baltic Sea.

The situation in the region, and particularly in the Gulf of Finland near St. Petersburg, has been correctly labeled a "crisis." Fifty years of industry in the region, with the Soviet Union and Russia as the main culprits, has endangered the health of the more than 90 million people living near the Baltic, including the more than 4 million inhabitants of Putin's hometown, according to a report published by Greenpeace last month. Sweden and Finland have issued repeated health warnings over the last decade.

Russian officials have confirmed that their delay in signing the convention is purely procedural and that Russia will endorse it before the May 2002 deadline. Skeptics have speculated that the Kremlin is playing a diplomatic game in order to win Western assistance for covering the cost of implementing the agreement — a cost estimated at as much as $180 million over 25 years.

We certainly hope that this is not true. Moscow will win much greater Western support by showing leadership on this issue and by exhibiting concern for its own citizens. Cleaning up the Baltic in partnership with other Baltic countries is a sound investment in a crucially important region of Russia. It is the kind of constructive partnership with Europe that Russia should be actively seeking out and embracing.