Russia and America Beyond the Missile Shield

When President Obama scrapped plans to base parts of a missile shield in former Soviet satellite states, the simplified story line suggested America had given Russia what it wanted. Anyone who imagines that's all Russia wants should listen to the frustration in Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov's voice when he talks about the World Trade Organization.

Links to audio and video from Shuvalov's appearance in Washington last week are here. To my ear, Shuvalov's fine command of English degrades a bit and a slight verbal tic -- an occasional "myeh" in the middle of sentences -- emerges about 30 minutes into the event when he discusses Russia's longstanding ambition to join the WTO.

"We have been discussing WTO accession for 16 years," Shuvalov lamented.

He portrayed WTO negotiations as a shell game.

"We believe it was the previous (American) administration's position -- whether it is Georgia or war, whatever -- something always happens which then changes the American position. And for many years now, I have received different reports from people who are the negotiating team that we have maybe four or six months left in order to finalize everything and by the end of the year we will be within WTO. And it doesn't happen."

A June 18 article in The Economist noted that Russia seemed "fed up with endless new demands and delays." That article also indicated Russia seemed to be abandoning its WTO ambitions, shocking "trade negotiators on both sides, who only weeks ago were trying to iron out the last wrinkles in a deal."

So if the U.S. has played games over WTO membership, Russia may have played some as well.

Speaking with Big Think about Russia last year, author James Traub highlighted a crucial question: "how do we manage what appears to be a very self-confident and very belligerent and perhaps somewhat paranoid regime which really sees the West as having ganged up against it?"

The politics of WTO membership seems to be one version of that riddle.

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