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By John Helmer, Moscow

According to the Kremlin website, on July 11 President Dmitry Medvedev met with “representatives of major private and state-owned companies”. The Kremlin website has identified them:

Alexander Abramov (Evraz)
Mikhail Abyzov (Ru-com)
Artem Avetissyan (NEO centre)
Vagit Alekperov (LUKoil)
Vladimir Bogdanov (Surgutneftegaz)
Nikolai Brunich (Zarubezhneft)
Oleg Budargin (UES)
Victor Vekselberg (Renova, Rusal)
German Gref (Sberbank)
Mikhail Gutseriyev (Russneft)
Oleg Deripaska (Basic Element, Rusal)
Yevgeny Dod (RusHydro)
Vladimir Yevtushenkov (Sistema)
Igor Zyuzin (Mechel)
Alexei Isaikin (Volga-Dnepr)
Anatoly Karachinsky (Business Information systems)
Boris Kovalchuk (UES)
Andrei Kostin (VTB)
Ziyatvudin Magomedov (Summa Capital, Novorossiysk Seaport Company)
Alexei Miller (Gazprom)
Leonid Michelson (Novatek)
Alexei Mordashov (Severstal)
Alexander Nesis (IST, Uralkali)
Alisher Usmanov (Metalloinvest)
Mikhail Fridman (Alfa Group)
Eduard Khudainatov (Rosneft)
Vladimir Yakunin (Russian Railways)

The last thing Medvedev is recorded as saying, according to the Kremlin transcript, is an appeal to stop interference with visas of foreign business visitors to Russia:

“Another important topic is that of normal conditions for doing business in Russia, the conditions meeting universally accepted standards, including the issue of entry to and stays within our country by people who would like to invest in our economy. In 2010 and 2011, as you know, a whole set of legislative decisions were made following my direct instruct ions to simplify the provision of visas to foreign specialists. Much still remains to be done; this work must be continued, since restrictions are still in place, as foreign colleagues constantly tell me during various meetings. It is unclear who we are closing ourselves off against; in any case, I hope you share the same position. This process must be completed.”

According to the Russian media reports, there followed a secret part of the meeting at which Medvedev asked the oligarchs to support him for re-election as president. Russian wire service reports of this part of the meeting claim the president “delicately and unequivocally gave us to understand that the time has come for the business community to decide who it wants to see as the next president — Medvedev or Putin”.

Reportedly, according to another participant, Medvedev said the business figures should decide whether they want Russia to keep pursuing policies put in place by Putin or shift to those Medvedev has claimed as his initiatives. A third report claims Medvedev was suggesting: ‘I want to [run], but I don’t know yet whether or not I will — I don’t have a firm position’.

According to one Moscow newspaper’s source, “that was so unexpected that I was struck speechless.”

Medvedev’s press spokesman was asked to explain his remarks about Russian visas to indicate whether Medvedev is aware that Americans have been repeatedly denied Russian entry visas by the Russian Foreign Ministry at the request of Russian businessmen.

Medvedev’s spokesman was also asked to explain why the public transcript of Medvedev’s remarks was cut short, omitting his appeal for election support by the oligarchs.

The press office declined to respond by telephone and insisted on receiving a fax of the questions. No reply has been made.

In an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow last week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained the British Government is intentionally interfering with visas of Russian visitors to the UK. “The current rules create a lot of problems,” Lavrov said. “Relapses are constantly arising.”

From Washington on March 13, it was also reported that Minister Lavrov did not sign the anticipated agreement on visa facilitation between Russia and the US. President Barack Obama said after meeting with Lavrov that he “thanked the Foreign Minister for his efforts to complete a new bilateral agreement on visa liberalization.” Obama did not say why the agreement had not been completed.

Lavrov is then quoted by the White House as saying: “I think we work in a very pragmatic, businesslike way on the basis of the common interest whenever our positions coincide, and on the basis of respect to each other whenever we have disagreements, trying to narrow the disagreements for the benefit of our countries and international stability.”

Lavrov told the Russian press a slightly different story. According to Radio Mayak, he said “we have completed work on the agreements on simplifying the visa regime. They will be processed as soon as possible: everything is ready, everything is agreed. And I think that I am not afraid of the word, if I say that it will open the way for the development of our dialogue on progress towards visa-free regime. This goal was mentioned during his visit to Moscow by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. And although a couple of years ago, perhaps, such a task might seem unthinkable, today, we see that there is every possibility that in our relations with the United States to promote this goal, which is already the subject of practical negotiations with the EU and Russia is also considering the fact that about 100 countries have with Russia visa-free regime, including, for example, Israel.”

Itar-Tass quotes Lavrov as saying “the document is ready, and we’ll sign it very soon…just this year, much earlier than Christmas, even the Catholic one.”

But the document isn’t ready for signing, the US has conceded. On July 4, US Ambassador to Moscow, John Beyrle, had announced categorically that it would be signed by Lavrov and Clinton this week. Summing up the achievements of his term in Moscow, shortly to conclude, Beyrle had said: “But for me, the best is really still yet to come next week when I go to Washington for the signing by Secretary of State Clinton and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov of the agreements on adoptions and a more liberal visa regime for our two countries.”

The exchange of remarks and texts in Washington is silent on what differences have not been agreed yet in the visa pact. They are also silent on whether the Obama Administration will agree with the US Congress to ratify Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and eliminate the Jackson-Vanik amendment, the 37-year old restriction of trading status tied to Russia’s human rights record.

An influential Washington lobbyist engaged in US-Russia talks on human rights says that “if Russia gets closer to WTO accession, then there is pressure to remove them from Jackson-Vanik”. He said the timetable for agreement on Russia’s accession terms depends on Congressional ratification of three prior trade agreements – with Panama, South Korea, and Colombia. Four years old in the signing, ratification of these papers was moved through the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees last week, but they are nowhere near ratification votes by the two chambers. If they are delayed in the autumn, sources in Washington believe there will be no US action on Russia’s WTO agreement until after Russia holds its presidential election next March.

In the public preparation and completion notes for Lavrov’s visit to Washington this week, including a detailed discussion by Lavrov of the agenda last week there is no reference to US acceptance of terms for Russia’s accession to the WTO.

Lavrov concluded his trip to the White House by telling Obama “President Medvedev is really looking forward to meeting you in Moscow in July.” The US Embassy in Moscow said today: “There has been no announcement for a July meeting, and most likely there won’t be any.”

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