Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a government meeting in Moscow on August 18, 2008.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a government meeting in Moscow on August 18, 2008. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: John alluded to the fact that there are a lot of foreign investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Russia's one of them. The central bank holds about $40 billion in Fannie and Freddie debt.

You might think investments like that would lead Moscow to closer economic ties with the West. But the last couple weeks have forced everyone to rethink what the Russians might do. Today Prime Minister Vladimir Putin added to the economic uncertainty when he said some not-so-nice things about the World Trade Organization.

Russia won't benefit from joining the WTO, he said. And, in fact, it might back away from the promises it's made during a decade-and-a-half of membership negotiations,

From the Marketplace European Desk in London, Stephen Beard reports.

BEARD: Russia is by far the largest country outside the WTO. Moscow has been seeking membership for more than a decade. Today's remarks by Putin paralyze that process. But Nick Redman of the Economist Intelligence Unit says Putin was just getting his retaliation in first. Russian membership was going to be blocked anyway.

NICK REDMAN: The Georgians, quite clearly, aren't going to wave them in anytime soon. The Americans are looking much the same. So you've got to put a brave face on it.

Nevertheless, many observers see Putin's remarks as a real setback for the global economy. Quentin Peel, international affairs editor of the Financial Times, says the West has much to gain from Russia joining the WTO.

QUENTIN PEEL: What the West would get out of it would be Russia obeying more rules of the economic game -- having to be transparent in its pricing policies, getting rid of heavy energy subsidies, having a really competitive financial sector.

And, he says, Russia would benefit from WTO membership as well, although Putin and his government do not seem to realize it.

PEEL: It would be fantastically good for Russia, too. It's a much more inefficient Russian economy that is outside the WTO.

He does not forecast a new Cold War or a new Ice Age in Russia's economic relations with the West. The fundamentals haven't changed. We still need Russian energy. They still need Western markets. But he says trust is fast corroding.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.