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Frustrated Putin orders officials to ignore WTO rules

Russia’s exasperation over its long-delayed WTO membership spilled out into the open again Friday when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered officials to ignore the trade body’s rules until the country is admitted.

“This is a direct order — we will not fulfil anything until we are a full member,” an angry-looking Putin said in televised remarks.

“We have to fulfil all the obligations and incur certain expenses without enjoying any of the benefits of the membership we do not have,” he said.

“As soon as we begin fulfilling obligations within the framework of the WTO without being members they — our partners — lose every desire to accept us.”

Russian news agencies quoted the powerful prime minister as saying at a government meeting in Saint Petersburg: “Why the hell should they accept us if we are implementing everything anyway?”.

“The market is worth money, and we are not going to give it away for free.”

Putin’s remarks came in response to comments by deputy economic minister Andrei Klepach who said he doubted Russia could raise import duties on power-generating equipment because of its obligations to the World Trade Organisation.

“Why are we constantly returning to this?” the premier was quoted as telling Klepach. “We will introduce these rules and restrictions only when full accession is in place, until then our hands are free.”

Russia, which opened its bid to join the WTO in 1993, is the last major world power not to be a member of the Geneva-based global trade body.

Moscow has complained it has had to negotiate longer than any other country to join the Geneva-based body and that its accession process has been unnecessarily politicised.

In 2009, Putin announced that Russia would seek accession as a customs bloc with Belarus and Kazakhstan, a decision that stunned the WTO and further complicated the talks.