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EU clears path to WTO accession

Six years of haggling came to an end last month when Russia and the EU finally signed off on a bilateral trade agreement that clears away a major obstacle in Russia?s efforts to join the World Trade Organization.

The EU has been blocking Moscow?s application to join the international trading club ? a top Kremlin objective since president Vladimir Putin?s election in 2000 ? in an effort to squeeze out concessions on Russia?s energy policy.

The EU is worried that its own companies won?t be able to compete with what it interprets as energy subsidies that Russia?s companies enjoy because of the low cost of power. Moscow has countered that Russian gas is cheap because Russia has lots of it.

Moscow started its horse trading from a weak position ? and one that got weaker after Washington?s promise of support evaporated last year after Russia joined France and Germany in their vocal opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

However, the Kremlin kept one card up its sleeve by refusing to sign off on the Kyoto protocol that introduces worldwide norms to protect the environment. As one of the biggest polluters, the protocol is meaningless without Russia?s participation ? particularly after America walked away from the agreement in 2001 ? giving it a de facto veto.