Georgia Links WTO Entry To Breakaway Province Ties

Georgia said Friday that it would block negotiations on Russian entry to the World Trade Organization until Moscow reverses a decision last month to step up ties with two breakaway Georgian provinces.

"Until this document that undermines Georgia's right is revoked, it will be an obstacle for Russia's WTO entry," Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili told a news conference in Moscow.

"I know it is a very tough statement to make, but it is a fact," Iakobashvili added.

Russia, the largest economy still outside the global trade body, is due to hold a next round of talks with the WTO accession working group on May 26, and Georgia said it would seek a bilateral meeting with Russia on the same day.

Under WTO rules, candidate countries have to reach agreement with a working party, in which any existing member can take part, as well as agree on a bilateral deal with any member that seeks it.

Moscow's support for separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is the most difficult problem in relations between Russia and Georgia, which is seeking to join NATO and the European Union.

Tbilisi has condemned as a breach of international law Moscow's decision to establish legal links with the provinces, controlled since the early 1990s by separatist governments.

"The Georgian side will not change its opinion. We cannot talk about trade regimes when there are sanctions against Georgia in place, when an attempt to annex Georgian territory is going on," Iakobashvili said.