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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1753
Russia, the international lender?;
Finally, WTO membership within reach
Edited by Ilan Berman and Amanda Pitrof
December 14, 2011
Under heavy pressure from the European Union, Georgia has offered what it calls its “last” series of compromise agreements on Abkhazia and South Ossetia for Russia’s approval. Tbilisi’s opposition has been the last obstacle standing between Russia and WTO membership, reports Itar-TASS. But Georgian approval is not technically required; only two-thirds of WTO member states are needed for accession, though the organization has operated under consensus since bringing Ecuador into the fold. Therefore, if Russia rejects the Georgian proposals regarding monitoring trade on the borders of the two breakaway regions, over which Moscow and Tbilisi fought a brief war in 2008, most experts believe that Russia could still gain membership by early 2012.
Russia has declared that it is ready to provide debt-ridden European countries with up to $10 billion in loans through the International Monetary Fund. “If Europe becomes unstable,” Bloomberg quotes the Kremlin’s top economic aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, as stating, “then the Russian economy will enter a period of instability.” The Kremlin and its fellow BRICS members, however, plan to take an “inflexible stance” that affected countries must start reducing their budget deficits. And some countries are already taking advantage of Russia's largesse; the government of Cyprus is already in negotiations with Russia over a $3.5 billion loan.
At long last, an agreement has been reached between Russia and Georgia over trade monitoring in Georgia's breakaway regions. If and when the formal agreement is signed, reports the New York Times, Russia could finally have a clear path to gaining WTO membership. The agreement allows for greater transparency in trade activity between Russia and the Georgian border areas, by stationing observers in three locations throughout the regions. Russia's entry to the organization could be approved at the group's ministerial meeting in December.
In a surprising move, U.S. intelligence agencies have called out China and Russia publicly for allegedly "stealing valuable American technology" via the Internet. American officials have always hinted at such theft,reports the New York Times, but considered it a matter better handled behind closed doors. A new intelligence report to Congress on foreign economic and industrial espionage, however, suggests that even countries more friendly to the United States may "use their broad access to U.S. institutions to acquire sensitive U.S. economic and technology information." “The computer networks of a broad array of U.S. government agencies, private companies, universities and other institutions — all holding large volumes of sensitive economic information — were targeted by cyber espionage,” the study details. There are as yet no reliable estimates of the monetary losses as a result of theft.
The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report has left the Kremlin on the wrong side of the hardening international consensus against Iran. The report, the Agence France Presse details, claims to have found "'credible' evidence" that Iran has an interest in nuclear weapons. Since the report's release in late October, both Britain and France have joined the U.S. in pressing for new and increasingly punitive sanctions "if Iran refuses to cooperate" with international demands for transparency and accountability. Russia, however, is taking a different tack; the Kremlin immediately dismissed the IAEA's findings, insisting that the committee twisted facts "to form an impression that he Iranian nuclear programme has a military component." It likewise has rejected the idea of stronger sanctions, and warned that "any additional sanctions against Iran will be interpreted by the international community as a means of changing the regime in Tehran."
The opening of the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Europe marks the latest development in the complex energy relationship between Moscow and the Old Continent. The Wall Street Journal reports that leaders from Germany, France, and Russia have stressed the new route as a sign of Russia’s growing importance for European energy security. But tensions recently arose after EU antitrust officials raided Gazprom offices under suspicion of anticompetitive behavior. Russian officials were quick to criticize the move, and insist that the suspicions were false, but the company has fought Brussels’ efforts to enforce EU restrictions against market dominance. Despite the ongoing disagreements, Russia is expected to increase its shipments of gas to Europe to around 200 billion cubic meters a year in the near future - making Moscow the source of a projected 25 percent of the EU’s total gas consumption.