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Obama must reset relations with Russia along economic lines

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Foreign policy cooperation, including on Iran, will still be important. But this reset must have a more comprehensive goal: to integrate Russia more fully into the international economy and community. By giving Russia – and Putin – a greater stake in strong relations with the West, the reset can also create incentives for better behavior, both domestically and internationally, at the Kremlin.  

This new approach should have three components: an economic one that uses Russia’s anticipated entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) to boost support for rule-of-law and build stronger commercial ties; a diplomatic one that involves  much closer coordination with European allies to present a united front to the Russians; and more firm and clear promotion of human rights and media freedom in Russia.

First, the economics.

In December, Russia reached agreement with the WTO and its members – including the United States and European governments – on the terms of its accession. All that remains is for the Duma, or parliament, to ratify the accord. While Putin has been somewhat skeptical of WTO accession, there is no other choice for Russia if the new government wishes to modernize an economy that’s overly dependent on oil and gas exports.

The US and Europe should push Russia to complete its entry into the WTO and then begin close monitoring of its implementation of trade rules. As with China, the process of adopting and enforcing those rules is likely to be slow. Just as the US and European Union pushed together for Chinese adherence to WTO rules on protection of intellectual property, so they must cooperate closely to gain Russian adherence to those rules and others.

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