Georgia and Russia’s WTO membership

It seems like the 18-year negotiations on Russia’s entry to the WTO are coming to an end. Moscow is also at the end of completing its membership; the only obstacle is Georgia’s position blocking the move. The Kremlin however thinks that it can overcome Georgia’s stubborn resistance and that the West will persuade Georgia to allow Moscow to be admitted.

WTO membership needs unanimous agreement; all the members should give their consent. The negotiations are generally conducted in multilateral format, while there are bilateral meeting if there are any special issues between the applicant country and a particular member country. Clearly in this case Georgia has particular interests concerning Russia’s entry to the WTO and if negotiations between the two countries are not concluded successfully the multilateral negotiations could yield no result whatsoever. Georgia set out and put forward its position well before the Russian aggression of August 2008. The major demand Georgia puts on the table is establishing and legalising the official border between Georgia and Russia at the Psou River in Abkhazia and the Roki Tunnel in Tskhinvali region. Both these territories are currently occupied by Russia and controlled by puppet separatist regimes.

Georgia has demanded that custom checkpoints be established with a secure presence of Georgian customs officers on the territories. Even before the war Russia ignored Georgia’s demand and it is unlikely that Moscow is prepared to consider this demand now when it exercises full control of the breakaway regions. Russian armed forces are deployed there and moreover Moscow has recognised the so called ‘’independent states’’.

Georgian analysts suggest that Japan might also veto Russian WTO membership. However if Georgia is alone in blocking Russia’s entry, it might yield to the pressure, retreat and make concessions. So for Georgia the situation is rather serious as ignoring Tbilisi’s demands, Moscow hopes that tiny Georgia will be forced by its western protectors to give up. The Kremlin is certain that Georgia’s consent is no longer its problem but the West’s who believe that with Russia in the WTO, Moscow will be easier to tame.

Others share similar opinions. Analyst Kakha Gogolashvili thinks that if Russia had been a WTO member in 2006 it would not have imposed an embargo on Georgian products. However it is easy to challenge this opinion because Russia does not follow international rules. Russia is a member of the UN, the Council of Europe and the CIS, yet it still launched a military attack on Georgia – also a member of the UN, Council of Europe and at that time the CIS.

Official Tbilisi has declared several times that it has not changed its position and visibly there is not much pressure on Georgia. The Georgian official position is very simple, but still Moscow refuses to negotiate with Tbilisi at all on any of the issues. Tbilisi has declared its readiness to negotiate with Moscow directly many times so the West should persuade the Kremlin sit at the table with Tbilisi. So far Russia stubbornly rules out any kind of top level negotiations with the leadership but if negotiations between Russia and Georgia are conducted, even if only on the WTO issue this would be a serious breakthrough and a diplomatic victory for Georgia.
The Messenger Online