Igor Burakovsky
Russia makes its way to the WTO: lessons for Ukraine

Russia WTO Ukraine_Deregus_Pereyaslav_RadaRussia as—well as Ukraine—announced its decision to join the WTO in 1993. Much was made and proclaimed that the talks with WTO members were successful, but their actual joining the WTO continues to be postponed. The process of joining the WTO was different for Russia vis--vis Ukraine: From the very beginning Russia considered its joining the WTO as a project having the potential to enhance her national economy, while in Ukraine this process was announced as a political priority, a designation that slowed down the process due to the fact that Ukrainian politicians are tremendously divided—if not intra-antagonistic; there is no consensus among them about anything, including joining the WTO .
The discussion concerning Russia joining the WTO has concentrated on three different aspects:

  • The internal aspect is discussing the pros and cons of this project, as well as examining the preparations and adjustments necessary for the Russian economy to minimize any negative consequences. These discussions in Russia and Ukraine were more or less the same and were using the same terms.  But in Russia the discussions about the potential impact on the national economy of joining the WTO were mostly scientific from the outset. As an expert, I must say that in Russia there is much more academic research being done on this project and its possible impact on different Russian industries and social consequences. What is even more important is that this research was done not only by Russian academia, but by international scientific communities as well.
    Meanwhile, in Ukraine one must admit that there is a wide gap between science and politics, and this gap is continuing to widen. There are two reasons for this: first, the present Ukrainian government is not interested in scientific research at all , much less on the WTO, and second, the scientific community in Ukraine is weaker than in Russia. 
  • Another aspect of this project is the international one. Russia was focusing on its joining the WTO as a way to increase its influence among post-Soviet republics by propagating the idea that the efforts of these republics to join the WTO should be closely coordinated. What that means in practice is that Russian customs measures should be adopted by all members of the Euro-Asian Economic Cooperation Organization.
  • Aspect number three: one should not overlook the Russian political propaganda aspect of this project. For example, it should come as no surprise that the statement that the Ushenko administration abandoned its position and stopped protecting Ukrainian national interests in the WTO talks originated in Russia. This statement was immediately propagated by a great number Ukrainian politicians and all Ukrainian representatives involved in the talks began to be perceived as members of some kind of anti Ukrainian conspiracy. The quintessence of this accusation was articulated by Russian Parliament Member Sergei Glazev in his May 23, 2005 open letter to Julia Timoshenko, who was prime minister of Ukraine at the time. As Glazev wrote, "Ukrainian representatives accepted the conditions of their overseas partners in WTO talks on all positions vital to the Russian and Ukrainian economies where cooperation between these two countries was essential, thus betraying the national economic interests both of Russia and Ukraine." This thesis was reiterated over and over by Ukrainian politicians opposed to Ukraine joining the WTO.

What one can expect from Russian WTO policies in future?
First of all, there is no doubt that Russia will join the WTO and will secure its future position there as an active player. It is expected that Russia will initiate various projects on her own as well as in close coordination with other countries. It is obvious that Russia will continue to actively participate in different Eurasian economic cooperation organizations to establish its position as a regional leader and secure its influence in the global economy.
What lessons can Ukraine derive from this experience?

  • First, establishing reasonable state policy is impossible without close monitoring of economic cooperation and developments all over the world, but especially in the regions having the biggest economic and political impact on Ukraine.
  • Second, it is high time that the mechanism of closer coordination between the different foreign policy centers in Ukraine be established.
  • Third, it is necessary that the state department increase its participation in decision-making and function as a type of think tank on the national economy, which would contribute to better understanding and articulation of the challenges to the national interests of Ukraine.
  • Fourth, in the modern world the strength of a state is determined by the competitive ability of its national economy, which may require structural and institutional reform.
  • Last (but not least), Ukrainian politicians should learn from Russian political leaders (such as Glazev) that national interests should be a priority over internal political wrangling.