Mediators in Moscow's effort to persuade Georgia to withdraw its objection to World Trade Organization (WTO) membership for Russia have signaled a possible deal to end 18 years of frustration for the world's biggest energy producer.
Swiss mediators left a hastily arranged meeting at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's residence near Moscow for Tbilisi, where they were expected to present a proposed solution.
There was no immediate public statement from the Georgian side.
Georgia last week suggested it was offering a final proposal to lift its objections, which were strengthened by a brief war with Russian forces on Georgian territory in 2008. Russia has targeted Georgian imports through a slew of punitive measures over the past decade.
"I hope that our discussion today will be fruitful and the results will allow Russia to enter the WTO by the end of the year, in December," Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told Medvedev.
Kremlin aide Arkady Dvorkovich was quoted as saying "all pending issues [could be resolved] within the next few hours."
Russia represents slightly under 3 percent of the world economy, and tiny WHO member Georgia's ability to block accession to the 153-member trade grouping has irked Russians.
Analysts suggested that Russia was unlikely to be able formally to join the world trade body until 2012, when former two-term President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes to return to the presidency as Medvedev steps down.
Russia hopes WTO entry might spur its economy by increasing competition. The World Bank has indicated membership could expand Russia's economy by 11 percent in the long term.
Russia and Georgia still have no formal diplomatic relations, a result of the bitter fighting in August 2008 in two breakaway Georgian territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the subsequent presence of Russian troops there.
WTO member Georgia wields an effective veto on Russian membership that it has threatened to use unless a dispute with Russia over customs controls is resolved.
A Russia-Georgia deal before a working group meeting in early November could lead to approval at a December 15 conference of WTO trade ministers in Geneva.
based on Reuters reports