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Georgia blocks Russia WTO membership talks

By Christina Tashkevich
Wednesday, April 30
Tbilisi halted talks on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization in Geneva on April 28, demanding Moscow reverse its decision to increase ties with Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“Due to the new circumstances, this is our new position,” Deputy Economic Development Minister Tamar Kovziridze, who headed the Georgian delegation in Geneva, told journalists.

Georgia and Saudi Arabia are the only countries clearly withholding consent on Russian World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, which requires unanimous approval from current members.

Until now, Georgia’s main demand for approving Russian WTO membership has been that Moscow allow Georgian border officers to be stationed at two border crossings with Russia which lie in separatist-controlled territory.

Russia’s chief negotiator Maksim Medvedkov confirmed that negotiations have been suspended, but insisted that Russia remains on the brink of receiving WTO membership.

“Our plan to wrap up negotiations soon, even if there are small delays, is on the way to being achieved,” he told journalists, adding that Russia could accede to the organization as early as August.

Medvedkov also said that an agreement reached in Geneva to release a report on Russia’s progress so far would bring the country closer to WTO membership.

“This agreement has significantly moved us forward ensuring support of trade partners,” he said.

Iceland’s ambassador to the EU Stefan Haukur Johannesson, who chaired the talks, said the agreement to release the document was “a great step forward.”

Georgian officials suggested in February that Russia was ready to move ahead with restoring Georgian control over the checkpoints, which the separatist administration fiercely oppose, but Moscow issued a statement emphasizing that no final agreement was reached.