Russia said Sunday it's close to a deal in talks with Georgia that would open the way for Moscow to be approved as a member of the World Trade Organization by the end of the year.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev thanked visiting Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey for Swiss mediation of the talks. Calmy-Rey voiced hope that her nation's efforts will help Russia join the global trade body this year, and Medvedev responded that "we very much would like to see that."
Russia needs to reach individual agreements with all 153 members of the WTO, and the lack of progress in talks with Georgia has been the last significant stumbling block. Switzerland has sponsored the negotiations between the two nations, which fought a brief war in 2008 leading to a breakdown in diplomatic ties.
Georgia said Thursday it has accepted a Swiss proposal providing guarantees of international supervision of all trade and cargo between Russia and the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian officials said they need several days to analyze the offer.
Medvedev didn't say in public remarks at the start of his talks with Calmy-Rey if Russia is ready to accept the Swiss offer, but the Kremlin economic advisor, Arkady Dvorkovich, said after the meeting that a deal is close and could be reached within hours.
"There are no major problems, but some issues need to be clarified," Dvorkovich said, according to Russian news reports. He added that if the deal with Georgia is finalized, Russia can be acceped as a member of the WTO at its ministerial meeting in mid-December.
Russia is by far the largest economy still outside the international trade body despite 18 years of talks. Both the European Union and the United States have voiced hope that Moscow could join the WTO by the year's end.
Georgia previously demanded that Moscow allow Georgian customs officials to operate in two breakaway provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia, which has recognized the two regions as independent states and strengthened its military presence there, flatly rejected the Georgian push.
The Swiss compromise proposal tried to solve the deadlock by offering to deploy international monitors at border checkpoints in the two separatist provinces.