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Putin urges Biden on visa-free future between Russia, U.S

Posted on: March 10, 2011

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.

Biden’s visit is aimed at building on the “reset” in relations spearheaded by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev but Putin has until now enjoyed less cordial relations with Washington than his successor as Kremlin chief.

“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”.

Biden started the day by meeting 19 representatives from Russian rights groups and religious movements that included award-winning campaigner Luydmila Alexeyeva and head of the Memorial human rights centre Oleg Orlov.

“He said that the issue of human rights and democracy are extremely important to the United States, and that they keep going back to it,” Alexeyeva told the Interfax news agency after the meeting.

Although such meetings have become a tradition among visiting US officials, its timing immediately preceding the Putin talks underscored Biden’s desire to demonstrate that Russian civil liberties remained a concern.

Rights groups accuse former intelligence agent Putin of orchestrating a clampdown on freedoms during his two terms as president and express fear for Russia’s future should he become Kremlin chief again in 2012 polls.

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