Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 215

Russian first deputy minister for foreign economic relations Georgy Gabuniya on November 12 criticized the governments of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for adopting independent negotiating positions in talks with the World Trade Organization (WTO). (Itar-Tass, November 12) The criticism from Moscow is further evidence of the lack of economic integration between the so-called "Union of Four" CIS countries (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan). It also suggests that Russia may not have as much negotiating leverage with the WTO as it might like.

The WTO, which was formed in January 1995 as a successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, is attempting to extend the GATT’s multilateral free-trade writ to trade in services, agricultural products, and intellectual property. The Baltic states and most of the Eastern European countries have joined the WTO, and membership negotiations with such CIS countries as Georgia and Armenia are relatively advanced. Russia’s negotiations have been especially protracted, however, in part because the Russian government has been attempting to leverage its substantial geopolitical influence into special membership terms. (China is pursuing a similar membership strategy.) Moscow’s negotiating position would be further strengthened if the other "Union of Four" countries could be induced to follow Russia’s lead.

This has occurred in the Belarusan case, as Minsk has essentially adopted Moscow’s position on its conditions for WTO membership (Russian agencies, November 10) However, support from Minsk is unlikely to yield much in the way of negotiating leverage, as the Lukashenka regime’s international isolation means that Belarus is unlikely to be invited to join the WTO in the foreseeable future. The fact that Almaty and Bishkek have broken ranks with Moscow would therefore seem to be a more serious development. Moreover, according to Gabuniya, the WTO membership proposals on trade in services offered by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan both differ from and precede Russia’s proposals. As such, the Central Asian countries may now be further along the road towards WTO membership than Russia.

Gabuniya suggests that, as a result of their failure to coordinate policy with Russia, "Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will meet with considerable problems in the course of these [WTO] negotiations." (Itar-Tass, November 12) On the other hand, their willingness to do so suggests that the Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani governments do not fear the consequences of pursuing an independent course. It also means that Moscow’s own position in the WTO negotiations has weakened, which may be what Moscow finds most objectionable.

Note: Ukraine’s Central Electoral Commission announced on November 14 the official start of the parliamentary election campaign. The Monitor continues its series of profiles of the parties and blocs that are competing in this election.

Ukrainian National Assembly Has no Allies in the Electoral Campaign.