Biden backs Russia's modernisation drive

9th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

US Vice President Joe Biden strongly backed President Dmitry Medvedev's drive to modernise Russia during a visit that sought to build on the "reset" in the two sides' recently blossoming ties.

"We fully support Medvedev's vision of a nation powered by innovation and modernisation," Biden said during a visit to Skolkovo, the suburban Moscow equivalent of Silicon Valley and hub of Medvedev's modernisation drive.

Biden said he backed offering most favoured nation status to Russia that could see it join the World Trade Organisation, and he oversaw the signature of a deal between Boeing and Aeroflot that sources valued at around $1.6 billion.

The US vice president arrived in Russia from Finland in the hopes of realising the potential of economic relations and finding common ground on the revolts rocking the Middle East and north Africa.

He was due to meet Medvedev later in the day and hold talks on Thursday with the Russia's strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Biden said the "reset" was going well with bilateral work on arms control and Afghanistan "but one area we can do more in is bilateral trade and investment."

Attending a Skolkovo round table with Russian and US executives, Biden said the administration strongly supported repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment which slapped trade penalties on socialist countries and remains on the books.

But he also sounded a cautious note on investment in Russia: "We are told that investors are looking for assurances that the legal system treats them fairly and acts on their concerns swiftly," he added.

Both sides have long acknowledged that economic relations remain well below their potential, and Biden has used several recent forums to urge Russia to refocus its attention on US business ties.

"With the world economy recovering from a painful crisis we need to explore ways to realise the full potential of our relationship and generate more trade and investment," Biden said in an interview published Wednesday.

A major breakthrough in economic relations came this year when the Russian authorities approved PepsiCo's acquisition of Russia's largest dairy and baby food producer Wimm-Bill-Dann but many US firms are wary of doing business here.

The deal overseen by Biden will see Russia's flag carrier Aeroflot become the first Eastern European airline to purchase Boeing's latest 777 jets.

The agreement covers eight planes to be delivered by 2017 -- in time for Russia's staging of the 2018 World Cup -- with an option for eight additional jets.

Top White House Russia advisor Mike McFaul confirmed that Biden would also discuss the Arab uprisings, predicting "interesting and robust conversations" in an indication both sides may not see fully eye-to-eye.

Russia approved UN Security Council sanctions against the regime of Moamer Kadhafi but has made clear it would not support foreign military intervention as some Western powers float the idea of a no-fly zone.

"The Libyans must resolve their problems themselves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Biden, who has on occasion been remarkably outspoken on Russia, may not on the surface seem the most natural figure to realise the full potential of the Obama reset.

In a 2009 interview with the Wall Street Journal he described the Russian economy as "withering" and suggested Russia's long-term weaknesses would force it to make concessions to the West.

"It's a very difficult thing to deal with, loss of empire," Biden said at the time.

But officials on both sides rubbished a Russian newspaper report last week that the real purpose of Biden's mission was to encourage Medvedev to stand in presidential elections in 2012 at the expense of Putin.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper said that as consolation Putin would be offered a post as head of the International Olympics Committee.

© 2011 AFP

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