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Will Russia Ever Join the WTO?

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Why would Russia, a major power, be thwarted for fourteen years in its attempt to join the World Trade Organization (WTO)? Through a detailed examination of Russia's WTO accession negotiations, the diplomatic processes of the WTO's accession procedures are uncovered, showing that this diplomacy is best understood as a complex process where state-level factors and international regime-level factors, such as the rules and conditions of accession, interact.

In the Russian case, the dialogue's length partly reflects technical difficulties in specific elements of the negotiations and partly a degree of ambivalence in the Russian government's attitudes towards accession. The Russian economy's high degree of dependence on oil and gas exports has taken the short-run urgency out of the negotiations from the Russian point of view, while reinforcing the medium-term case for accession within the context of a diversification policy. Russia's new President Dmitry Medvedev and new Minister for the Economy Elvira Nabiullina are strongly committed to WTO accession as a basis for developing the Russian economy as an innovation-based economy. Meanwhile, Russia's former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is sympathetic to that idea, but is inconsistent in his pronouncements. At the regime level, the key obstacles to accession in the past have been Russia's insistence on the freedom to maintain government agricultural subsidies and the reluctance of other WTO members to compromise on this issue. Since the Georgian crisis of August 2008, the United States has tended increasingly to use WTO accession as an instrument of political leverage vis-à-vis Russia. It must be assumed that Georgia will veto any Russian application for membership unless a satisfactory solution to the Abkhazia/South Ossetia issue can be found.

Affiliations: 1: SPRU—Science and Technology Policy Research, The Freeman Centre, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QE, United Kingdom;, Email:


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