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US Vice President Calls for Closer Economic Ties with Russia

  • James Brooke

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) shakes hands with Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev during their meeting in the presidential residence at Gorki, outside Moscow March 9, 2011.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) shakes hands with Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev during their meeting in the presidential residence at Gorki, outside Moscow March 9, 2011.

Visiting U. S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Moscow Thursday that economic modernization can only come with political modernization. He said foreign investors want predictability, transparency and the rule of law.

Two years after the Obama administration launched a campaign to improve relations with Moscow, Vice President Biden is calling for close economic ties with Russia.

Citing joint cooperation on Afghanistan, on sanctions on Iran, and on nuclear weapons control, Biden gave this verdict in Moscow on the political reset. "The reset is working. It is working for all of us, working for Russia, and I would presumptuously suggest, working for the world.”

He says the reduction in political tension has led to a dramatic softening of attitudes of Russians and Americans toward each other. Today, only two percent of Americans see Russia as a threat, he told an audience of business leaders and Moscow State University students. On the Russian side, he said, Russians with positive views of the United States have jumped from 17 percent in 2008 to over 60 percent today.

To build on this base, he says, the next step is to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization. "Let me make this as clear as I possibly can: President Obama and I strongly support and want to see Russia in WTO," he said.

Joining the WTO should be part of a wider effort in Russia to increase foreign investment by fighting corruption. Citing cases of ‘fortunes lost because of legal abuse' he said "Russia’s business and legal climate, quite frankly, is going to have to continue to improve. Because, right now, for many companies, it presents a fundamental obstacle."

Russia faces a presidential election one year from now. The visiting American made a forceful argument that economic modernization is linked to political modernization.

"No amount of government cheerleading, or public relations, or US support, or rebranding will bring wronged or nervous investors back to a market they perceive to have these shortcomings. Only bold and genuine change," Biden said.

Earlier Thursday, the American vice president, met behind closed doors with Russian opposition leaders. Speaking at Moscow State University in the only public address of his two day visit to Russia, he gave a textbook lesson on democracy, stressing the need for a free press, for free nongovernment organizations, and for viable opposition political parties.

"Polls show that most Russians want to choose their national and local leaders in competitive elections. They want to be able to assemble freely, and they want a meeting that is independent of the state, and they want to live in a country that fights corruption. That’s democracy," he said.

Also on Thursday Biden met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Russian caught the visiting American off guard by unexpectedly proposing to abolish visas between the two countries. Mr. Putin said: "This would break all the old stereotypes between Russia and the United States. We would turn a very important page and everything would start over," he said.

Biden limited his response to saying it is a good idea.

In his public comments in Russia, Biden has repeatedly praised President Dmitry Medvedev.

After their meeting on Wednesday, he said: "Your personal leadership and progress has proved the skeptics wrong."

In another endorsement, he also said: "We fully support Mevedev’s vision of a nation powered by innovation and modernization."

In his public remarks, he has made no mention of Prime Minister Putin. The Russian press has speculated that the Obama Administration would prefer to see Mr. Medvedev as the official candidate in next year’s presidential elections.

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