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Biden's Moscow visit reaffirms US-Russia 'reset'

Vice President Biden's two-day visit to Russia was aimed at bolstering economic ties. He also called on the Kremlin to take a harder line against corruption.

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A US prod might be the only thing that could persuade Georgia to drop its stubborn objections to Russian membership. Since the WTO requires newcomers to be ratified by consensus, Georgia's stand over Russia's continued sponsorship of breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia could leave Moscow's application in limbo indefinitely.

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"This is where we'll see if there can be practical give and take in this relationship," says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist with the Moscow daily Kommersant. "If the American side sends a strong signal to Georgia that it's time to be flexible and let Russia into the WTO, that will be taken in Moscow as very strong evidence that the reset is working."

Trade turnover between Russia and the US was just $23.5 billion last year, less than 4 percent of Russia's external commerce, but Biden told a meeting of business leaders in the future high-tech hub of Skolkovo that he embraces Medvedev's vision of modernizing Russia's economy and hopes the US will find ways to participate.

"We fully support President Medvedev's vision of a nation powered by innovation and human capital, and that we have a deep respect for the pool of talent and the passion of the Russian people," Biden said. "Indeed, we share a similar vision for our own nation."

In the Skolkovo meeting, Biden urged Kremlin leaders to redouble efforts against corruption, which according to some estimates swallows up about a quarter of Russia's GDP. He also called for less red tape, more transparent business rules, and fewer restrictions on foreign investment.

Abolishing visas?

But some Russian experts are scratching their heads over a quixotic suggestion made by Mr. Putin during a Thursday meeting with Biden that the US and Russia take the "historic step" of abolishing visas for travel between the two countries. "This would break all the old stereotypes between Russia and the United States," Putin said.

That doesn't seem to be a practical point for the near-term US-Russian agenda, says Mr. Strokan, since security agencies and powerful political interests on both sides are likely to staunchly oppose it. "What I see here is Putin trying to burnish his image. He knows that he is viewed abroad as a former KGB man, associated with the Iron Curtain and all that, so what better way to dispel that negative view than to publicly advocate tearing down those visa walls and letting people travel freely?" he says. "It's not a bad thing to talk about, but don't look for it to happen anytime soon."

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