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Moscow, EU Reach Deal for Russian WTO Membership

EU President Herman Van Rompuy (l) and EC President Jose Manuel Barroso (r) welcome Russian president Dmitri Medvedev before an EU-Russia summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Dec 7, 2010

The European Union and Russia have reached an agreement on trade issues that paves the way for Moscow's entry into the World Trade Organization as early as next year.

The deal opening the way for Russia's membership to the World Trade Organizations was reached during wide-ranging talks between European Union officials and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Brussels. They underscore warming ties between the two sides after divisions over the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.

The European Union permanent President Herman Van Rompuy announced the breakthrough at a press conference. "We agreed that we should now focus on the multi-lateral negotiations so that Russia can become a member of the WTO as soon as possible. This is a paramount step forward. And a step the world is closely watching."

Moscow is the European Union's third-biggest trading partner and the only major one that is not a member of the World Trade Organization. As a result, it must settle differences through bilateral negotiations with separate states.

Russia received U.S. backing for its WTO membership in October, after 17 years of negotiations, and hopes to join the trading block in 2011.

Separately, The Associated Press news agency reported Medvedev is urging NATO to drop a secret agreement to defend three Baltic states against military attack during a meeting with the Atlantic alliance Wednesday in Brussels. Information about the defense deal was cited in confidential U.S. cables made public by WikiLeaks.