12th April 2011,
At the beginning of the year, Democratist commented on Russia’s chances of joining the WTO, following an agreement with the EU in December 2010 which had supposedly brought accession closer to reality.
At the time we said,
“…there remains a great deal of protectionist sentiment domestically within Russia. This is best exemplified by Putin’s own attempts last year to modernize domestic industry through a renewed emphasis on industrial policy (to be funded by raw materials rents). A lack of cash seems to have put paid to that strategy for the time being, but Democratist maintains that a rise in raw materials prices beyond a certain point will likely prompt a shift back towards protectionism.”
And lo and behold! With oil heading up towards the $125 per barrel mark, yesterday’s Vedmosti reports on a recent spot of petulance from Vladimir Putin with regard to WTO (at a conference in Saint Petersburg last Friday). Apparently, “Russia is not going to meet the demands extended to WTO members before becoming a member itself…We are not going to observe anything of the sort as long as we are not members. Period.”
But as the paper ruefully notes, in relation to Russia’s (frequently diverted) path towards possible WTO membership over the last decade; “the government of Russia and Putin himself bear at least part of the blame for the state of affairs where Russia cannot make use of any WTO advantages. As happened on several occasions already, the moment Russia approached the coveted membership, Putin pulled off something unexpected that caused a delay or detour…All speculations on how Russia is kept out of the WTO are really a smoke-screen designed to conceal the lack of genuine interest in the membership. Russian businesses keep seeing the WTO as a threat. The Russian leadership has but a dim awareness of the advantages that go with the membership but know that at the very least it will require transparency of the kind Russia is not accustomed to. There is no powerful group of interests in Russia interested in the WTO membership.”
WTO membership, and the huge boost it would imply for liberalization, is not an option unless the nomenklatura decides it is serious about economic reform. But as long as the oil price remains high there is no incentive. Why risk “instability”, when you can just divvy up the spoils with your old chums from the KGB – with enough left over to keep the proles in line, until the next crisis?
It is this old guard whose opinions count, and which will still count after the Presidential elections, regardless of whether Putin or Medvedev “wins.”