"There's clearly an acceleration in this Russian accession (bid) to the WTO recently. I now believe that Russian accession to the WTO is in sight. I even would say it can be done by the end of this year when we have a WTO ministerial," Lamy said.
"My feeling... now is that it can and will probably work."
Russia's 18-year quest to join the WTO is a history of missed deadlines and optimistic predictions of an imminent deal, but Lamy said he had never made such a prediction before.
If Russia's accession is agreed by the WTO ministers in December, Russia will not immediately become a member, since the deal would still need to be ratified by Russia's parliament, which holds elections the same month.
Russia is easily the biggest country still outside the 153-member trading club, and its long-running bid to join has hit numerous obstacles, including a spat with Georgia, which -- as an existing WTO member -- can effectively veto Russia's entry.
Georgia's representative to the WTO told a meeting on Russia's accession on Wednesday that there had been no major breakthrough, according to a trade official who was present.
Lamy said the dispute was the subject of a mediation effort being led by Swiss officials, and talks were being held on Thursday and Friday in Geneva.
"As always in this sort of negotiation, a few nuts remain to be cracked until the very last minute," he said. "But my sense, for what it's worth, and I'm only a facilitator in this sort of negotiation, is that there is now political resolve and enough technical maturity for it to happen.
"I think for the first time since 17 years, these two ingredients for a proper chemical reaction are now there."
In a further sign that Russia's bid might at last be hotting up, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso telephoned Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday to reiterate Europe's support for Russia's bid.
Insurance against protectionism
Russia is not lacking trade but its trade is heavily skewed towards exports of oil, gas and metals, and years of rhetoric from the Kremlin about diversifying the economy into other sectors has had little impact.
In the past year, Russia has further developed its oil exports by opening a new pipeline to China, but in other areas it has infuriated the same trade partners that now hold the keys to the WTO.
Among its unpopular moves, Russia banned wheat exports, banned EU vegetable imports, suspended some meat imports from Brazil and told foreign car makers they must source locally and commit to major Russia-based production if they want to take advantage of lower import tariffs for car parts.
The car issue still needed to be overcome, Lamy said.
"Like everything in the WTO it's a question of negotiation. Obviously this will have to be put in line with WTO obligations. The question is: is there a transition period? Are there benchmarks? And this is precisely what is being negotiated."
But he said the question of agricultural subsidies was "already under control".
Trade experts say Russia's WTO entry could cause some short term pain as well as longer term gain, since the government would have to stop some trade-supporting subsidies and Russian producers would have to cope with more foreign competition. However, in the longer term, it should help Russia develop its exports.
"What Russia gets when joining the World Trade Organization is an insurance policy against protectionism," he said. "What Russia also gets in joining the WTO is a sort of quality label that its economy is run according to a sort of normal open market economy benchmark. And this is something that investors, business care a lot about."
He said the case of Vietnam also showed that WTO accession could trigger a surge in foreign direct investment.
"So it also provides an insurance policy for people who want to do business with Russia that Russia will behave according to our international standard," Lamy said.
EurActiv with Reuters