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Putin offers Biden visa-free US-Russia travel

10 march 2011, 17:45
0
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday proposed to visiting US Vice President Joe Biden that Russia and the United States abolish visas in a "historic" step to seal a revival in ties, AFP reports.

Biden's visit is aimed at building on the "reset" in relations spearheaded by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"If the United States and Russia agree to implement a visa-free regime before Russia and the European Union, then this would be a historic step in our relations," Putin told Biden.

"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. This would create a new moral atmosphere."

The unexpected proposal had not been flagged in advance and appeared another example of Putin's fondness for taking observers by surprise with unexpected announcements.

Efforts by Russia and the EU to agree visa-free travel have continued for years without substantial progress. But this appears to be the first time Putin has suggested cancelling visas with Moscow's main Cold War foe.

Biden praised the improvement in ties overseen by Medvedev and President Barack Obama, saying that the two sides had been failing to exploit the opportunities in relations.

"It is not a matter of altruism but in our self-interest and in the self- interest of Russia," he said.

Biden's reply to the visa proposal idea was not audible to reporters present at the negotiations, although his English-to-Russian translator quoted the US vice president as saying it was a "good idea".

While known for speaking his mind in public, Biden has thus far avoided making any direct mention of politics and focused instead on trade issues, including his backing of Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization.

Yet Biden also lavished praise on Medvedev's leadership, his role in the improvement in US-Russia ties over the last two years and his drive to turn Russia into an innovation hub less dependent on energy exports.

Medvedev took over from Putin as Kremlin chief in 2008 and many observers predicted that he would merely be a puppet of the man who has now dominated Russia for over a decade.

But Biden said: "In my career when I sat down with a Russian leader I sat with one of the most powerful men in the world. I still feel that way."

Biden was due to conclude his two-day visit by delivering a key-note address at Moscow State University that is likely to set the tone of Russia-US relations ahead of 2012 presidential elections in both countries.

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