After 18 years of talks, Russia appears on the verge of succeeding in its bid to join the world's leading trade body.
On October 31, the Kremlin's top economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, responded positively to a proposed deal with Georgia that would pave the way for Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Dvorkovich said that agreement on the deal should be reached before trade ministers from the bloc meet for a December 15 conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Georgia is the only member of the WTO blocking Russia's entry to the group.
Dvorkovich told reporters in Moscow that Russia will not propose any "radical" changes to a document submitted to them during the weekend by Swiss officials who are mediating talks between Russia and Georgia.
Dvorkovich also said that if Russia manages to complete all the "necessary processes," a working group will meet on November 11 to review the Swiss proposal.
He said that "if the decision of the working group is positive, Russia would be ready to join the WTO."
The former Soviet republic of Georgia already is a WTO member. Russia must reach agreement with Tbilisi in order for its WTO entry to be approved at the Geneva conference.
But relations between Georgia and Russia have been particularly tense in the aftermath of the August 2008 war they fought over the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
One of the biggest obstacles to Russian membership appeared to have been at least partly removed last week when Tbilisi agreed to a "final proposal" from Swiss mediators to help Russia join the organization.
"The Swiss side has submitted a document, a consultative document, that is a draft agreement between the Russian Federation and Georgia," said Georgia's deputy foreign minister Sergi Kapanadze on October 28. He heads the negotiating team that has been meeting with Swiss mediators.
"They have asked us to take this document and confirm it," Kapanadze added. "The Georgian side has already expressed its agreement.
"We think it is a good document that meets all our needs and at this point we are waiting for the agreement of the Russian Federation.
"If the Russian side agrees, that means it will have every chance of joining the World Trade Organization."
Stumbling Blocks To Russian Accession
Georgia has said it is in favor of Russian membership of the WTO, but its conditions for agreeing to allow its powerful neighbor to join have long threatened to derail Moscow's bid.
In particular, Tbilisi has demanded international monitoring of cross-border trade in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow recognized as independent states after the brief 2008 Georgia-Russia war.
Most other countries consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be sovereign Georgian territory.
Georgian officials say the proposed compromise would bring in a private company contracted by a third international party to physically and electronically monitor goods entering and leaving the breakaway regions.
Kapanadze told RFE/RL that a detailed trade monitoring mechanism is set out within the Swiss proposal.
"It is a mechanism that consists of two parts, two components -- the first is international monitoring," he said. "That is, representatives of international monitoring will be physically present as goods pass through customs."
"The second component is a system of exchanging information, an electronic information system."
On October 30, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey near Moscow as part of the negotiating process.
In thanking the Swiss confederation for "undertaking to make it easier for Russia to join the WTO and to reach the agreements needed," Medvedev said he hoped Moscow would be able to become part of the WTO by the end of the year:
Russia's negotiator at the talks in Geneva has said Moscow would give its response to the Swiss proposal this week.
with agency reports