Biden warns Russia on corruption

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US Vice President Joe Biden warned Monday that Russia needed to cleanse corruption in business and the legal system and forge democracy to fully benefit from joining the World Trade Organization.

Biden, who is just back from a trip to Russia warned, in an opinion article for the International Herald Tribune, that "only bold and genuine change" could entice Russia's desired share of international investors.

He also praised the recent warming of ties between Moscow and Washington, saying it had averted a "dangerous drift" in relations.

The United States is backing Moscow's entry into the WTO as part of a "reset" of its ties with the Kremlin and talks on Russia's entry to the body could conclude as early as April.

"But even if they do join the WTO, Russia's business and legal climate and backsliding on democracy will present serious obstacles," Biden wrote.

"Pragmatic businessmen and women will invest where they can expect a reasonable return and some assurance that the legal system will provide due process.

"Americans, Europeans, and Russians themselves, are less likely to invest confidently in a country where property rights are frequently violated, where fortunes can be lost because of legal abuses, where companies can be seized on a politician's whim," Biden wrote.

"No amount of government cheerleading or public relations rebranding will bring wronged or nervous investors back to this type of market. Only bold and genuine change can do that."

Biden said that universal human values, real opposition parties, an independent media and impartial courts were the best tools for fighting corruption, which he said was the biggest barrier to economic growth in Russia.

Russia, which opened its bid to join the WTO in 1993, is the last major world power that is not a member of the Geneva-based global trade body.

During a visit to Moscow last week, Biden hailed the "reset" of ties between the two nations under President Barack Obama, which has produced a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and better cooperation elsewhere.

He met President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who made an unexpected offer for the two nations to abolish visa requirements in a "historic" step to seal the improvement in relations.

© 2011 AFP

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