The Cable

Georgia to Clinton: We won’t budge on Russia’s WTO bid

The foreign minister of Georgia told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Georgia can’t consent to Russia joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), if Russia doesn’t agree to international monitors on the Russian-Georgian border. Clinton met with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on Monday morning for about 25 minutes in New York on the sidelines ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The foreign minister of Georgia told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Georgia can’t consent to Russia joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), if Russia doesn’t agree to international monitors on the Russian-Georgian border.

Clinton met with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on Monday morning for about 25 minutes in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The bulk of that meeting was spent discussing the Swiss effort to mediate between Russia and Georgia over the former’s application to join the WTO, a major goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy, a senior State Department official said.

No country has been admitted to the WTO without the consensus of all existing members and the Obama administration has been pressing both sides to strike a deal that would allow Georgia to support Russia’s bid.

"As she did with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov last week, Secretary [Clinton] urged Foreign Minister Vashadze to make the most of the Swiss mediation proposal and to try to make progress to close the gaps when the delegations meet in the next week and a half," the official said.

Giga Bokeria, Georgia’s national security advisor, was also inside the meeting between Clinton and Vashadze. He told The Cable in an interview today that, while the Georgian government appreciates and agrees with the Obama administration’s emphasis on the Swiss process, which was initiated because Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic relations after their 2008 war, Moscow has shown no signs of moving toward Tbilisi’s basic demands. Thus, Georgia is not yet willing to support Russia’s WTO accession.

"The Obama administration is urging all parties to compromise. We are doing that; the Russians are not. It’s up to the Russians, either they want to compromise or they don’t," he said. "The process exists, but as it stands there will be no Georgian consent. The ball is in Russia’s court."

Georgia wants international monitors stationed as customs officers on the borders between Russia and the Russian-occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, borders currently manned by Russian troops. We’re told that the Russians have thus far refused to agree to allow independent monitors on that border.

Russia is also insisting that any agreement with Georgia not be included in its actual WTO accession agreement, so that Georgia would not be able to use the WTO dispute resolution mechanisms to enforce the agreement. The Georgians are demanding the right to use the WTO to enforce any agreement with Russia.

"Unfortunately, what we see at the moment is that Russia is completely inflexible to find a reasonable compromise in terms of transparency along the Russian-Georgian border," Bokeria said.

"We just want to reach a meaningful compromise to achieve transparency through international monitoring," he added, pointing out there is no precedent for a country joining the WTO without consensus from all WTO members.

Bokeria also commented on the recent announcement that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intend to swap jobs for next year’s election in Russia. But he said he doesn’t anticipate any big changes in Russian foreign policy.

"It was clear throughout this time that Prime Minister Putin was in charge. The Russian policy toward Georgia and its other neighbors has not changed and unfortunately there’s no sign it will change in the immediate future," he said. "It will be aggressive as it was."

"For some analysts who had some illusions that there was some internal struggle, that we always thought were unserious, this is an eye opener now," said Bokeria. "It’s an insult to Russian citizens the way this has been presented to them."

One of the "analysts" who believed that Medvedev and Putin were locked in an internal struggle for control of Russia’s government was Vice President Joseph Biden, who argued last year that the New START arms control agreement was key to strengthening Medvedev against Putin.

"Medvedev has rested everything on this notion of a reset. Who knows what Putin would do? My guess is he would not have gone there [in terms of committing to the reset], but maybe," Biden said.

That’s quite different from the White House’s message this week, which claims the Obama administration knew all along that Putin was in control.

"Everyone knows that Putin runs Russia," a U.S. official told the New York Times this week. "Remembering this obvious fact means that Putin has supported the reset with the U.S."

Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who served under President Putin, apparently had it right in an interview last November with Foreign Policy, when he described the Medvedev-Putin relationship as that between "a boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."

When asked if he thought Putin would run for president in 2012, Kasyanov said, "I wouldn’t say ‘run,’ just step in."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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