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STOCKHOLM — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently announced that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have abandoned their separate talks to join the World Trade Organization. Instead, they would seek to enter the world trade body as a single customs union. In effect, this means that Russia seems to be casting aside its accession to the WTO — a major reversal of Russian strategy.

Putin’s statement hit like a bolt from the blue. Two days earlier, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and European Union Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton had completed successful talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO with Putin first deputy Igor Shuvalov, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Minister of Economy and Development Elvira Nabiullina. As late as June 3, Putin had declared himself sure of Russia’s “swift joining of the WTO.”

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