Daily Archives: April 12, 2007

EDITORIAL: Russia and the WTO

EDITORIAL: Putting our Money where our Mouth is

Today (below), we report on the latest developments in Russia’s bid to enter the World Trade Organization and win repeal of the Jackson-Vannick amendments passed by the the U.S. Congress to sanction the USSR. Once again, Russian policymakers turn out to have vastly, and publicly, overestimated their abilities to impress their American counterparts and convince the U.S. to approve their bid. Despite having a presidential sycophant in George Bush, many in the U.S. are deeply concerned about the level of dishonesty in commercial behavior prevalent in Russia, and are blocking Russia’s progress.

There are two schools of thought on whether Russia should be admitted to the WTO, and until now LR has taken no position (though we’ve often and emphatically said Russia should be booted out of the G-8, we’ve seen the WTO as a different animal). Today, we take one. We’re against WTO admission. Here’s why.

One school of thought is that the Kremlin doesn’t really want to be admitted to the WTO, only Russia’s liberals do. Under this school of thought, we should support WTO admission, since it will give the West increased leverage in Russia by opening Russia’s markets more fully to Western trade. Following the “catch more flies with sugar” line of reasoning, this school believes we can kill the Kremlin with kindness.

The other school of thought is that Russia is an evil empire in the making that must be opposed exactly the way the USSR was. This school believes that the Kremlin wants WTO admission desperately, because allowing Russia into international organizations confers a certain amount of legitimacy that the Kremlin can use to bolster its image among the Russian people along with sham elections and occasional bribes. This school contends that Russia’s increasing isolation makes it increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to reign in the Russian population, which in the age of the Internet can find out just how utterly the Kremlin’s policies are being rejected in the West.

It’s impossible to know for sure which version of reality is correct, and it’s definitely a good idea to do the opposite of what the Kremlin wants (any other policy would betray not only Western security but the fate of the people of Russia) because the Kremlin is so fundamentally duplicitous and dishonest. And for that very reason, we must err on the side of rejection. The WTO is a trading organization. Trade implies a fair bargain, that Russia can be trusted in international commerce, that it won’t be wolf in the hen house. Russia has proven time and again that it can’t be trusted, and its scores for societal corruption from Transparency International are among the very lowest in the whole world.

To put it mildly, you wouldn’t buy a used car from this country. The Kremlin is most likely trying to reap the benefits of WTO admission without paying any of the costs; once it’s been admitted, the idea of ejecting it will be out of the question. Russia routinely ignores international law, as it did when it allowed Iranian General Mohammad Bagher Zolqadr into the country recently. It ignores the world’s wishes on providing nuclear technology to Iran, just as it ignores U.S. national security in providing caches of weapons to madman Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Russia wouldn’t vote to allow the U.S. into the WTO if the U.S. were providing weapons like those to Chechyna, yet it expects U.S. support for its own bid. Hypocrisy is the natural outgrowth of duplicity. Therefore, it can’t be admitted.

Finally, it’s clear that the U.S. and Russia are on the brink of a new arms race and a new cold war; the latest flareup is over the installation of defensive U.S. missile systems in Eastern Europe. Quite simply, it would be insane for the the U.S. to provide such an enemy with the economic juice WTO membership could provide, much less the propaganda value.

If the rest of the world was united in opposition to the Kremlin as it should be, and if it had a solid plan for concerted action to protect itself from the neo-Soviet Union, and if Russia’s liberals were similarly united and dynamically vocal about wanting WTO admission as a lever, that would be one thing. It’s not the case. The world has been pusillanimous in the extreme, and Russia’s liberals have been disorganized and lazy (as usual). Blocking WTO admission seems to be the only message the U.S. is currently capable of sending that is in any way tangible that it opposes the rise of the neo-Soviet Union, so it can — it must — send that message. As is so often the case, it appears that the U.S. is the only country in the world willing to put its money where its mouth is where democracy and liberal values are concerned. So, once again, it must lead the world to the waters of liberty and hope it will drink.

Hey, hey, ho, ho — US says whoa! to Russia’s WTO

On Tuesday, Vedemosti reported:

On Monday, at an event titled “Russia in the WTO: Prospects and Strategic Possibilities,” Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia expected to conclude bilateral talks on World Trade Organization membership with Vietnam and Cambodia by the end of May. He also said that he expected to conclude multilateral talks with the organization as a whole by the end of July, meaning that Russia would gain membership to the trade body “by the end of 2007, or in the worst case in the early part of next year.” The outcome of negotiations with Georgia, the last bilateral deal that has to be sealed, is still unclear, but Moscow can probably expect help from Washington on this front. Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed unconditional support for Russian WTO accession.

Once again, it seems the Kremlin has got carried away with itself. During the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting, as LR reported then, Alexei Kudrin declared Russia was minutes away from WTO admission. Didn’t happen. Now, the Moscow Times reports that Gref is caught equally far off base. Once again, we see Russia living in a world of illusion of its own making, utterly detached from reality and heedless of the consequences, just as in Soviet times.

A senior U.S. trade official said Russia was making only slow progress toward entering the World Trade Organization and that Congress was not close to dropping a key trade restriction.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared to be taking a harder line than U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said last week that the United States would do all it could to help Russia enter the WTO.

Schwab said Monday that Congress was not ready to repeal Cold War-era legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment to normalize trade relations with Russia.

“The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is: ‘Is the WTO ready to let Russia in?’ And the answer is: ‘Not yet,'” Schwab said at a news conference in Washington.

Schwab called the news conference to announce that the United States would complain to the WTO about copyright violations in China, which is a WTO member. She mentioned Russia in response to a reporter’s question.

Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. trade representative’s office, was unable on Tuesday to immediately comment on Schwab’s remarks.

Gutierrez sounded more upbeat about Russia’s WTO progress when he visited Moscow last week. Speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference, he said the United States was “very supportive” of Russia’s WTO bid and that “we want to help in any way we can.”

In return, Washington expects Russia to combat intellectual property rights violations by closing plants that produce counterfeit optical disks and shutting down a popular web site for music downloads, Allofmp3.com. Russia should also better define its laws on imports of encryption technology, Gutierrez said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the conference that it would be difficult to drastically improve protection of intellectual property rights this year.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry had no immediate comment about Schwab’s statements.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress appear to have decided that it would be premature to rescind Jackson-Vanik before the multilateral stage of WTO talks ends, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and a strong supporter of Russia’s bid.

The delay gives the U.S. business community a chance to speak to Congress members about what they are doing in Russia, he said. “We’ve already started this process,” he said. “I travel to the U.S. every two weeks and speak with congressmen and senators.”

Sergei Prikhodko, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the United States was living in the past by refusing to lift Jackson-Vanik.

“This legislation was adopted in the time of the Soviet Union as a reaction to discrimination by the Soviet authorities in terms of restricting people’s movement,” Prikhodko said at a news conference. “Is anything like that happening now? Then why is this measure still in force? Russians are free to travel anywhere they want.”

Jackson-Vanik was adopted in the 1970s in response to Soviet restrictions on the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.

Prikhodko said Russia had as much right to be in the WTO as any current member.

“Our results over the past few years — in macroeconomics and in the development of every industry, not only the ones that extract resources — show that we in no way lag behind the dozens of other countries that are WTO members,” he said.

But, he acknowledged: “Perhaps we still have work to do.”

State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin criticized Schwab’s remarks as an example of U.S. double standards in dealing with Russia. “The U.S. is restricting Russia’s chances of joining the WTO, and that can’t fail to worry us,” he said, Interfax reported.

Russia hopes to join the WTO before Putin leaves office early next year. Schwab sounded a more optimistic note in November when Washington and Moscow announced the completion of bilateral talks over WTO entry.

Differences, however, remain over the protection of intellectual property and agriculture.

Putin on Tuesday signed into law a raft of bills that toughen punishment for piracy. Copyright violators will face up to six years in prison, instead of five years, and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (about $19,200).

Hey, hey, ho, ho — US says whoa! to Russia’s WTO

On Tuesday, Vedemosti reported:

On Monday, at an event titled “Russia in the WTO: Prospects and Strategic Possibilities,” Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia expected to conclude bilateral talks on World Trade Organization membership with Vietnam and Cambodia by the end of May. He also said that he expected to conclude multilateral talks with the organization as a whole by the end of July, meaning that Russia would gain membership to the trade body “by the end of 2007, or in the worst case in the early part of next year.” The outcome of negotiations with Georgia, the last bilateral deal that has to be sealed, is still unclear, but Moscow can probably expect help from Washington on this front. Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed unconditional support for Russian WTO accession.

Once again, it seems the Kremlin has got carried away with itself. During the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting, as LR reported then, Alexei Kudrin declared Russia was minutes away from WTO admission. Didn’t happen. Now, the Moscow Times reports that Gref is caught equally far off base. Once again, we see Russia living in a world of illusion of its own making, utterly detached from reality and heedless of the consequences, just as in Soviet times.

A senior U.S. trade official said Russia was making only slow progress toward entering the World Trade Organization and that Congress was not close to dropping a key trade restriction.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared to be taking a harder line than U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said last week that the United States would do all it could to help Russia enter the WTO.

Schwab said Monday that Congress was not ready to repeal Cold War-era legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment to normalize trade relations with Russia.

“The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is: ‘Is the WTO ready to let Russia in?’ And the answer is: ‘Not yet,'” Schwab said at a news conference in Washington.

Schwab called the news conference to announce that the United States would complain to the WTO about copyright violations in China, which is a WTO member. She mentioned Russia in response to a reporter’s question.

Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. trade representative’s office, was unable on Tuesday to immediately comment on Schwab’s remarks.

Gutierrez sounded more upbeat about Russia’s WTO progress when he visited Moscow last week. Speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference, he said the United States was “very supportive” of Russia’s WTO bid and that “we want to help in any way we can.”

In return, Washington expects Russia to combat intellectual property rights violations by closing plants that produce counterfeit optical disks and shutting down a popular web site for music downloads, Allofmp3.com. Russia should also better define its laws on imports of encryption technology, Gutierrez said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the conference that it would be difficult to drastically improve protection of intellectual property rights this year.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry had no immediate comment about Schwab’s statements.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress appear to have decided that it would be premature to rescind Jackson-Vanik before the multilateral stage of WTO talks ends, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and a strong supporter of Russia’s bid.

The delay gives the U.S. business community a chance to speak to Congress members about what they are doing in Russia, he said. “We’ve already started this process,” he said. “I travel to the U.S. every two weeks and speak with congressmen and senators.”

Sergei Prikhodko, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the United States was living in the past by refusing to lift Jackson-Vanik.

“This legislation was adopted in the time of the Soviet Union as a reaction to discrimination by the Soviet authorities in terms of restricting people’s movement,” Prikhodko said at a news conference. “Is anything like that happening now? Then why is this measure still in force? Russians are free to travel anywhere they want.”

Jackson-Vanik was adopted in the 1970s in response to Soviet restrictions on the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.

Prikhodko said Russia had as much right to be in the WTO as any current member.

“Our results over the past few years — in macroeconomics and in the development of every industry, not only the ones that extract resources — show that we in no way lag behind the dozens of other countries that are WTO members,” he said.

But, he acknowledged: “Perhaps we still have work to do.”

State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin criticized Schwab’s remarks as an example of U.S. double standards in dealing with Russia. “The U.S. is restricting Russia’s chances of joining the WTO, and that can’t fail to worry us,” he said, Interfax reported.

Russia hopes to join the WTO before Putin leaves office early next year. Schwab sounded a more optimistic note in November when Washington and Moscow announced the completion of bilateral talks over WTO entry.

Differences, however, remain over the protection of intellectual property and agriculture.

Putin on Tuesday signed into law a raft of bills that toughen punishment for piracy. Copyright violators will face up to six years in prison, instead of five years, and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (about $19,200).

Hey, hey, ho, ho — US says whoa! to Russia’s WTO

On Tuesday, Vedemosti reported:

On Monday, at an event titled “Russia in the WTO: Prospects and Strategic Possibilities,” Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia expected to conclude bilateral talks on World Trade Organization membership with Vietnam and Cambodia by the end of May. He also said that he expected to conclude multilateral talks with the organization as a whole by the end of July, meaning that Russia would gain membership to the trade body “by the end of 2007, or in the worst case in the early part of next year.” The outcome of negotiations with Georgia, the last bilateral deal that has to be sealed, is still unclear, but Moscow can probably expect help from Washington on this front. Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed unconditional support for Russian WTO accession.

Once again, it seems the Kremlin has got carried away with itself. During the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting, as LR reported then, Alexei Kudrin declared Russia was minutes away from WTO admission. Didn’t happen. Now, the Moscow Times reports that Gref is caught equally far off base. Once again, we see Russia living in a world of illusion of its own making, utterly detached from reality and heedless of the consequences, just as in Soviet times.

A senior U.S. trade official said Russia was making only slow progress toward entering the World Trade Organization and that Congress was not close to dropping a key trade restriction.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared to be taking a harder line than U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said last week that the United States would do all it could to help Russia enter the WTO.

Schwab said Monday that Congress was not ready to repeal Cold War-era legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment to normalize trade relations with Russia.

“The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is: ‘Is the WTO ready to let Russia in?’ And the answer is: ‘Not yet,'” Schwab said at a news conference in Washington.

Schwab called the news conference to announce that the United States would complain to the WTO about copyright violations in China, which is a WTO member. She mentioned Russia in response to a reporter’s question.

Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. trade representative’s office, was unable on Tuesday to immediately comment on Schwab’s remarks.

Gutierrez sounded more upbeat about Russia’s WTO progress when he visited Moscow last week. Speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference, he said the United States was “very supportive” of Russia’s WTO bid and that “we want to help in any way we can.”

In return, Washington expects Russia to combat intellectual property rights violations by closing plants that produce counterfeit optical disks and shutting down a popular web site for music downloads, Allofmp3.com. Russia should also better define its laws on imports of encryption technology, Gutierrez said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the conference that it would be difficult to drastically improve protection of intellectual property rights this year.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry had no immediate comment about Schwab’s statements.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress appear to have decided that it would be premature to rescind Jackson-Vanik before the multilateral stage of WTO talks ends, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and a strong supporter of Russia’s bid.

The delay gives the U.S. business community a chance to speak to Congress members about what they are doing in Russia, he said. “We’ve already started this process,” he said. “I travel to the U.S. every two weeks and speak with congressmen and senators.”

Sergei Prikhodko, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the United States was living in the past by refusing to lift Jackson-Vanik.

“This legislation was adopted in the time of the Soviet Union as a reaction to discrimination by the Soviet authorities in terms of restricting people’s movement,” Prikhodko said at a news conference. “Is anything like that happening now? Then why is this measure still in force? Russians are free to travel anywhere they want.”

Jackson-Vanik was adopted in the 1970s in response to Soviet restrictions on the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.

Prikhodko said Russia had as much right to be in the WTO as any current member.

“Our results over the past few years — in macroeconomics and in the development of every industry, not only the ones that extract resources — show that we in no way lag behind the dozens of other countries that are WTO members,” he said.

But, he acknowledged: “Perhaps we still have work to do.”

State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin criticized Schwab’s remarks as an example of U.S. double standards in dealing with Russia. “The U.S. is restricting Russia’s chances of joining the WTO, and that can’t fail to worry us,” he said, Interfax reported.

Russia hopes to join the WTO before Putin leaves office early next year. Schwab sounded a more optimistic note in November when Washington and Moscow announced the completion of bilateral talks over WTO entry.

Differences, however, remain over the protection of intellectual property and agriculture.

Putin on Tuesday signed into law a raft of bills that toughen punishment for piracy. Copyright violators will face up to six years in prison, instead of five years, and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (about $19,200).

Hey, hey, ho, ho — US says whoa! to Russia’s WTO

On Tuesday, Vedemosti reported:

On Monday, at an event titled “Russia in the WTO: Prospects and Strategic Possibilities,” Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia expected to conclude bilateral talks on World Trade Organization membership with Vietnam and Cambodia by the end of May. He also said that he expected to conclude multilateral talks with the organization as a whole by the end of July, meaning that Russia would gain membership to the trade body “by the end of 2007, or in the worst case in the early part of next year.” The outcome of negotiations with Georgia, the last bilateral deal that has to be sealed, is still unclear, but Moscow can probably expect help from Washington on this front. Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed unconditional support for Russian WTO accession.

Once again, it seems the Kremlin has got carried away with itself. During the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting, as LR reported then, Alexei Kudrin declared Russia was minutes away from WTO admission. Didn’t happen. Now, the Moscow Times reports that Gref is caught equally far off base. Once again, we see Russia living in a world of illusion of its own making, utterly detached from reality and heedless of the consequences, just as in Soviet times.

A senior U.S. trade official said Russia was making only slow progress toward entering the World Trade Organization and that Congress was not close to dropping a key trade restriction.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared to be taking a harder line than U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said last week that the United States would do all it could to help Russia enter the WTO.

Schwab said Monday that Congress was not ready to repeal Cold War-era legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment to normalize trade relations with Russia.

“The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is: ‘Is the WTO ready to let Russia in?’ And the answer is: ‘Not yet,'” Schwab said at a news conference in Washington.

Schwab called the news conference to announce that the United States would complain to the WTO about copyright violations in China, which is a WTO member. She mentioned Russia in response to a reporter’s question.

Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. trade representative’s office, was unable on Tuesday to immediately comment on Schwab’s remarks.

Gutierrez sounded more upbeat about Russia’s WTO progress when he visited Moscow last week. Speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference, he said the United States was “very supportive” of Russia’s WTO bid and that “we want to help in any way we can.”

In return, Washington expects Russia to combat intellectual property rights violations by closing plants that produce counterfeit optical disks and shutting down a popular web site for music downloads, Allofmp3.com. Russia should also better define its laws on imports of encryption technology, Gutierrez said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the conference that it would be difficult to drastically improve protection of intellectual property rights this year.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry had no immediate comment about Schwab’s statements.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress appear to have decided that it would be premature to rescind Jackson-Vanik before the multilateral stage of WTO talks ends, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and a strong supporter of Russia’s bid.

The delay gives the U.S. business community a chance to speak to Congress members about what they are doing in Russia, he said. “We’ve already started this process,” he said. “I travel to the U.S. every two weeks and speak with congressmen and senators.”

Sergei Prikhodko, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the United States was living in the past by refusing to lift Jackson-Vanik.

“This legislation was adopted in the time of the Soviet Union as a reaction to discrimination by the Soviet authorities in terms of restricting people’s movement,” Prikhodko said at a news conference. “Is anything like that happening now? Then why is this measure still in force? Russians are free to travel anywhere they want.”

Jackson-Vanik was adopted in the 1970s in response to Soviet restrictions on the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.

Prikhodko said Russia had as much right to be in the WTO as any current member.

“Our results over the past few years — in macroeconomics and in the development of every industry, not only the ones that extract resources — show that we in no way lag behind the dozens of other countries that are WTO members,” he said.

But, he acknowledged: “Perhaps we still have work to do.”

State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin criticized Schwab’s remarks as an example of U.S. double standards in dealing with Russia. “The U.S. is restricting Russia’s chances of joining the WTO, and that can’t fail to worry us,” he said, Interfax reported.

Russia hopes to join the WTO before Putin leaves office early next year. Schwab sounded a more optimistic note in November when Washington and Moscow announced the completion of bilateral talks over WTO entry.

Differences, however, remain over the protection of intellectual property and agriculture.

Putin on Tuesday signed into law a raft of bills that toughen punishment for piracy. Copyright violators will face up to six years in prison, instead of five years, and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (about $19,200).

Hey, hey, ho, ho — US says whoa! to Russia’s WTO

On Tuesday, Vedemosti reported:

On Monday, at an event titled “Russia in the WTO: Prospects and Strategic Possibilities,” Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Russia expected to conclude bilateral talks on World Trade Organization membership with Vietnam and Cambodia by the end of May. He also said that he expected to conclude multilateral talks with the organization as a whole by the end of July, meaning that Russia would gain membership to the trade body “by the end of 2007, or in the worst case in the early part of next year.” The outcome of negotiations with Georgia, the last bilateral deal that has to be sealed, is still unclear, but Moscow can probably expect help from Washington on this front. Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed unconditional support for Russian WTO accession.

Once again, it seems the Kremlin has got carried away with itself. During the St. Petersburg G-8 meeting, as LR reported then, Alexei Kudrin declared Russia was minutes away from WTO admission. Didn’t happen. Now, the Moscow Times reports that Gref is caught equally far off base. Once again, we see Russia living in a world of illusion of its own making, utterly detached from reality and heedless of the consequences, just as in Soviet times.

A senior U.S. trade official said Russia was making only slow progress toward entering the World Trade Organization and that Congress was not close to dropping a key trade restriction.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab appeared to be taking a harder line than U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who said last week that the United States would do all it could to help Russia enter the WTO.

Schwab said Monday that Congress was not ready to repeal Cold War-era legislation known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment to normalize trade relations with Russia.

“The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is: ‘Is the WTO ready to let Russia in?’ And the answer is: ‘Not yet,'” Schwab said at a news conference in Washington.

Schwab called the news conference to announce that the United States would complain to the WTO about copyright violations in China, which is a WTO member. She mentioned Russia in response to a reporter’s question.

Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. trade representative’s office, was unable on Tuesday to immediately comment on Schwab’s remarks.

Gutierrez sounded more upbeat about Russia’s WTO progress when he visited Moscow last week. Speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference, he said the United States was “very supportive” of Russia’s WTO bid and that “we want to help in any way we can.”

In return, Washington expects Russia to combat intellectual property rights violations by closing plants that produce counterfeit optical disks and shutting down a popular web site for music downloads, Allofmp3.com. Russia should also better define its laws on imports of encryption technology, Gutierrez said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said at the conference that it would be difficult to drastically improve protection of intellectual property rights this year.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry had no immediate comment about Schwab’s statements.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress appear to have decided that it would be premature to rescind Jackson-Vanik before the multilateral stage of WTO talks ends, said Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and a strong supporter of Russia’s bid.

The delay gives the U.S. business community a chance to speak to Congress members about what they are doing in Russia, he said. “We’ve already started this process,” he said. “I travel to the U.S. every two weeks and speak with congressmen and senators.”

Sergei Prikhodko, President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on foreign affairs, said Tuesday that the United States was living in the past by refusing to lift Jackson-Vanik.

“This legislation was adopted in the time of the Soviet Union as a reaction to discrimination by the Soviet authorities in terms of restricting people’s movement,” Prikhodko said at a news conference. “Is anything like that happening now? Then why is this measure still in force? Russians are free to travel anywhere they want.”

Jackson-Vanik was adopted in the 1970s in response to Soviet restrictions on the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate.

Prikhodko said Russia had as much right to be in the WTO as any current member.

“Our results over the past few years — in macroeconomics and in the development of every industry, not only the ones that extract resources — show that we in no way lag behind the dozens of other countries that are WTO members,” he said.

But, he acknowledged: “Perhaps we still have work to do.”

State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin criticized Schwab’s remarks as an example of U.S. double standards in dealing with Russia. “The U.S. is restricting Russia’s chances of joining the WTO, and that can’t fail to worry us,” he said, Interfax reported.

Russia hopes to join the WTO before Putin leaves office early next year. Schwab sounded a more optimistic note in November when Washington and Moscow announced the completion of bilateral talks over WTO entry.

Differences, however, remain over the protection of intellectual property and agriculture.

Putin on Tuesday signed into law a raft of bills that toughen punishment for piracy. Copyright violators will face up to six years in prison, instead of five years, and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (about $19,200).

Now, the Kremlin Moves Against the Blogosphere

Bloomberg reports on the Kremlin’s attempt to establish a chokehold on Russia’s blogosphere:

President Vladimir Putin has already brought Russian newspapers and television to heel. Now he’s turning his attention to the Internet.

As the Kremlin gears up for the election of Putin’s successor next March, Soviet-style controls are being extended to online news after a presidential decree last month set up a new agency to supervise both mass media and the Web.

“It’s worrying that this happened ahead of the presidential campaign,” Roman Bodanin, political editor of Gazeta.ru, Russia’s most prominent online news site, said in a telephone interview. “The Internet is the freest medium of communication today because TV is almost totally under government control, and print media largely so.”

All three national TV stations are state-controlled, and the state gas monopoly, OAO Gazprom, has been taking over major newspapers; self-censorship is routine. That has left the Internet as the main remaining platform for political debate, and Web sites that test the boundaries of free speech are already coming under pressure.

In December, a court in the Siberian region of Khakassia shut down the Internet news site Novy Fokus for not registering as a media outlet. The site, known for its critical reporting, reopened in late March after it agreed to register and accept stricter supervision.

Plug Pulled

Anticompromat.ru, which wrote about Putin’s pre-presidential business interests, had to find a U.S. Web server after a Russian service provider pulled the plug March 28, saying it had been warned by officials to stop hosting the site.

Last year, the authorities shut down a Web site called Kursiv in the city of Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, that lampooned Putin as a “phallic symbol of Russia” for his drive to boost the birthrate.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia isn’t restricting media freedom and that the new agency isn’t aimed at policing the Web.

“If you watch TV, even federal TV channels, you’ll hear lots of criticism of the government,” Peskov said in an interview. “This new agency will be in charge of licensing. It’s not about controlling the Internet.”

Putin, 54, isn’t allowed to run for re-election in 2008 under Russia’s two-term constitutional limit. Instead, he is promoting two potential successors: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a 41-year-old lawyer, and Sergei Ivanov, 54, a KGB colleague of Putin who oversees much of Russian industry, including transport and nuclear power. The two, who both come from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, have become fixtures on state-controlled television.

Gorbachev’s Complaint

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policy of glasnost, or openness, ushered in media freedom in the late 1980s after decades of Soviet censorship, has condemned the state propaganda on the airwaves.

“The one thing I can say is that it’s pointless today to watch television,” Gorbachev, 76, said on the 20th anniversary of the launch of “perestroika,” his drive to allow more political and economic freedom that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While most Russians rely on television for news, increasing numbers are turning to the Internet. Around a quarter of the adult population — 28 million people — are regular Internet users, according to the Public Opinion Foundation, a Moscow-based research organization. In 2002, only 8 percent fell into that category.

A Mass Medium

“When the Internet becomes more of a mass medium, then governments start getting worried, and they start treating it like the mass media,” said Esther Dyson, who helped establish the Internet’s system of domain names and addresses, and has consulted extensively in Russia.

“You can’t control the Internet, but you can control people,” she said in a telephone interview during a visit to Moscow.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations in Moscow, predicted in a telephone interview that “pressure on the media is going to worsen” as the presidential succession draws nearer.

Reporters who write critically about government policies are subjected to intimidation, arrests, attacks and other forms of pressure, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said March 27 in its annual report.

Facing Prison

Viktor Shmakov, editor of the newspaper Provintsialny Vesti in the oil-rich Bashkortostan republic, is facing up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors charged him with inciting mass disturbances after his weekly urged readers to attend an opposition rally last year.

Russia is the second most dangerous country for journalists after Iraq, with 88 killed in the past 10 years, according to the Brussels-based International News Safety Institute.

Last October, Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent reporter and Kremlin critic who uncovered human-rights abuses by security forces in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow.

A journalist for the Kommersant daily, Ivan Safronov, who was investigating Russian weapons sales to Iran and Syria, fell to his death from a window in his Moscow apartment March 2.

The government, meanwhile, has been expanding Gazprom’s media role. The company already took control of independent channel NTV in 2001 and bought long-established Russian daily Izvestia in 2005.

Last year, Kommersant, once owned by tycoon and exiled Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky, was sold to Alisher Usmanov, a steel magnate who is head of a Gazprom subsidiary. And Gazprom said in November it will acquire Russia’s biggest-selling daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which has a circulation of 800,000.

Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor of the Web site that lost its Russian server after mocking Putin, said the Web crackdown is part of the final phase of a campaign to stifle free speech.

“Thank God the Internet is difficult to close down, but I think they will go after journalists who write things they don’t like,” he said.