West using Georgia to delay Russia's WTO bid: Putin
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the West on Thursday of using Georgia's refusal to back Russia's bid to join the WTO as an excuse for keeping it out of the world's main free trade club.
As a World Trade Organisation member, ex-Soviet Georgia has the right to veto Russia entrance to the body, confirming its status as the world's largest economy outside the group.
Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in 2008 that resulted in Moscow's recognition of two breakaway republics that Georgia still views as a part of its territory.
Putin told an investment forum in Moscow that after 17 years of negotiations, Western nations and Russia were finally making significant progress.
"We have already reached agreements on key issues," Putin said, referring to agriculture and automobile industry.
But then he added: "Now what do we hear from our partners? Go and find an agreement with Georgia.
"I have a question on this: do our main partners want Russia to be a WTO member or not? No need to hide behind the Georgian question, if they want to, then they can do it very quickly."
And if they do not, Putin said in characteristically strong remarks, "they can drag out the Georgian problem, or think of other ones."
Putin continued by giving Russia's potential joining of the WTO a rather muted approval.
"As to whether I think this will benefit Russia or not... fifty-fifty. But in all, it's more a plus than a minus," Putin said. "We are not rejecting this goal... but will do it only in the case where no unacceptable conditions are set for us."
Joining the WTO has been high on the foreign policy agenda of President Dmitry Medvedev, who will step down after March polls next year that Putin is almost sure to win.
Putin has backed a much tougher negotiating position on the WTO than Medvedev and has previously said that Russia would only be willing to join the group on Moscow's own terms.
© 2011 AFP