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Putin Hopes to Promote Russian WTO Membership at G8 Summit - 2004-06-08


Analysts in Moscow say Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to promote Russia's effort to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) during his talks with other world leaders at the G8 Summit this week in the United States. The analysts say the Iraq issue may provide the Russian leader with some political leverage he can use to gain U.S. support.

The director of the U.S./Canada Institute in Moscow says President Putin's key issue will likely get little public consideration at the summit, compared to concerns over the future of Iraq. The institute director, Viktor Kremenyuk, said that most of the attention at the summit will focus on other issues, particularly how much support Russia and the other leading opponents of the Iraq war, France and Germany, will provide to the United States and Britain as they try to move Iraq toward sovereignty.

"The most urgent question is Iraq and what both sides can do and should do to keep the situation in Iraq under control,? he said. ?Besides that, I think they will be inclined to talk about the coordination between both sides on the issues of terrorism or counter-terrorism. Then, of course, the coordination on the non-proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction and, of course, the question of the greater Middle East, which is a part of the Iraqi problem but, in reality, is much larger because it incorporates also the Arab/Israeli conflict."

On those other issues, Russia is already working with the United States, but Mr. Kremenyuk says President Putin may use the U.S. need for international consensus on Iraq to get some private help on his desire for Russia to join the World Trade Organization.

Membership in the WTO is a big issue for President Putin because it would make it easier for Russian companies to export their products. Some Russian officials also believe membership in the global trade group would be a symbol that more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has fully regained its status as one of the world's major powers.

Veteran political analyst Masha Lippmann of Moscow's Carnegie Center agrees President Putin will be making every effort to ensure that his recent more conciliatory tone on Iraq yields real gains for Russia.

"Russia has gotten approval from the E.U. on its WTO accession, [but] to get the approval from the U.S. [is] regarded to be a harder task. So, there may be some sort of trade-off, to put it bluntly,? she said. ?These matters are never openly discussed. However, back-stage I think bargaining may and should go on. Russia may try to push its cause further on getting approval from the United States on getting WTO accession."

At the same time, Ms. Lippmann says Russia has its own reasons, particularly in the oil industry, to want the situation in Iraq to stabilize. She notes that a large number of Russian workers who had been working in Iraq have been forced to return home due to the ongoing violence. Others have been kidnapped or injured while on duty.

"[At} the time when Russia was totally opposed to whatever America is doing in Iraq, this time is certainly gone and the time of the opposition is certainly gone. It's not that Russia has become a supporter and that Russia sympathizes with the American plight in Iraq. However, I think President Putin sticks to his statement made actually when the war was still on in Iraq, more than a year ago now, that Russia will not benefit by American failure."

Ms. Lippmann says the discussions on trade could be difficult because they will likely cover key points of disagreement between the United States and Russia, such as intellectual property rights, and trade barriers on agriculture and alcohol products.

But at the U.S./Canada Institute, Mr. Kremenyuk said that the United States will find a way to be more supportive of Russia's effort to join the World Trade Organization.

"I don't think that in the current situation the U.S. may really say something against that. So, I think that what may follow will be an attempt somehow to make a deal, a bargain, that the U.S. will support the Russians' application to the WTO,? he added. ?But the question is what Russia will do to make that decision realistic, that is [to say] what Russia may do and will do on Iraq, or any other issue?"

Mr. Kremenyuk and Ms. Lippmann say that no matter what happens on the trade issue, it will happen behind closed doors and off the public agenda. Still, they say if President Putin can return to Moscow with an agreement from the United States, even in principle, on the timing of Russia's accession to the WTO, then the time President Putin spends at the summit will have been well spent.

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