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US vice president in talks with Putin

MOSCOW, Mar 10 – US Vice President Joe Biden was due Thursday to meet Russia\’s strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and deliver a key-note address highlighting the accomplishments of the two sides\’ "reset" in ties.

One day after delivering emphatic support for President Dmitry Medvedev\’s modernisation effort, Biden was due at noon (0900 GMT) to meet his mentor and predecessor Putin, who has enjoyed far less cordial relations with Washington.

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.

The White House said Biden\’s speech "will highlight recent areas of accomplishment on shared interests, as well as ways the US and Russia can continue to work together to further the prosperity of our two countries."

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

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 rights issues remained a concern in Washington.

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.

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

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Yet Biden also openly 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.

"Your personal leadership and progress has proved the sceptics wrong," Biden told the Russian head of state on Wednesday.

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."

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