Syndrome of natural advantages - 30 August, 2002

It seems that WTO membership isn’t a top priority for Russian President Vladimir Putin at all. He spoke at the last session of the State Council presidium and reminded Europe of Russia’s natural advantages. The president thinks that terms of levelling the domestic and export gas tariffs are unacceptable for Russia. And this is not Russia’s only objection to the double-dealing requests of European partners.
Russian officials, representatives of all power levels expressed their opinions on the problem. Saratov governor Dmitry Ayatskov told journalists: “If Russia joins the WTO now, it will gain nothing. On the other hand, if it doesn’t join the organization, it won’t lose anything either.”   The Saratov governor isn’t an opponent to joining the WTO at all, he just thinks it is not the right moment for Russia to become a WTO member. “The problem is to be worked on,” the Saratov governor said. However, Russia should enter the WTO not earlier than 2005. But it is often meant in Russia that when something is put off, it will never be realized at all. As long as the Saratov governor holds his post, he will say to put off entry in the WTO. But in fact, majority of people in Russia think that we shouldn’t strive for Europe and for the West. It is not ruled out that they may cease existence soon. 
It is obvious that there are no problems about the WTO itself. The delay is caused by the fact that advocates of entry in the WTO, despite their activity and PR in the central media, are still rather unconvincing. Reasons why Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin are clear: they will have a chance to have business trips abroad, establish connections with the European parliament and EU.

But is WTO membership really important for Russians? There is no definite opinion among the population concerning entry in the World Trade Organization. Do Russian reformers ignore the public opinion again?
It is not only Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska who pursue  personal economic interests; there is an opinion in Russia that isolation is the best variant for making Russian economic wonder. Russian resources are rich enough, the country should wait for some time to save the strength. As the time goes by, anything possible can happen with the rest of the world.  And Russia may remain the strongest in this case.

It is kind of a syndrome of natural advantages that Russia inherited from the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. It is neither good, nor bad. One thing is sure, the syndrome is to remain for a long time to determine the Russian policy. 
Dmitry Slobodanuk

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Author`s name Michael Simpson