One of the unintended consequences of the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia is that it seems to have made Russia’s coveted accession to the World Trade Organization even less likely than before. Because Georgia can block Russia from joining the WTO, it has been using that power as a bargaining chip to resolve the border and trade conflicts between the two countries.
One major sticking point, however, is Russia’s refusal to accept Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia–two regions within Georgian borders but which Russia sees as its independent allies (and the subject of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war). In the Obama administration’s rush to “reset” its relationship with Russia, it has stopped asking Russia to respect Georgian sovereignty. This has emboldened Russia, which in turn forced Georgia to dig its heels in further on WTO accession, since it cannot count on the U.S. Bloomberg reports that Russia is left asking the Swiss to coax Georgia back to the table:
Switzerland, neutral since 1815 and the place both Vladimir Lenin, father of the Russian revolution, and Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn found asylum, has mediated between Russia and Georgia in their WTO negotiations at least four times since March and a further meeting is set for Sept. 12 in Geneva, according to Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadz. The country’s autonomy from blocs such as the European Union and NATO give it added legitimacy in Russia’s eyes.
“Swiss neutrality and non-membership of the EU and NATO are a tremendous advantage because there is no hidden agenda,” said Daniel Warner, assistant director for international relations at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. “There’s nothing in this for them besides prestige.”
That prestige hasn’t moved the process very far. Georgia repeated its (quite reasonable) demands, and Russia responded with trademark bluster:
Russia won’t make any deals with Georgia to win WTO membership, President Dmitry Medvedev — the first Russian head of state to visit Switzerland — said in an Aug. 4 interview with Georgian and Russian broadcasters. “WTO accession is not too high a price to pay here,” he said.
And why should they make a deal? The Obama administration has steadily chipped away at American support for our allies in Russia’s near-abroad, Georgia very much included. Russia no doubt believes time is finally on its side with regard to the WTO. But as long as the U.S. keeps Georgia feeling increasingly isolated, expect the Georgians to keep a tight grip on this one piece of leverage they hold over Russia.