WASHINGTON, Oct 4, 2011 (AFP) - US Vice President Joe Biden said during a meeting with a senior Russian official close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Washington supported Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Following a meeting on Monday with Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Biden's office issued a statement in which the vice president "affirmed US support for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization."
"The vice president encouraged the successful conclusion of ongoing talks between Russia and Georgia with respect to Russia's WTO accession," it said.
Shuvalov, who was recently appointed to oversee the finance ministry, is considered close to Putin, who said last month he would seek to return to the presidency.
President Dmitry Medvedev has said he will step down in favor of Putin, his more popular and respected mentor, taking all the suspense out of a vote whose uncompetitive nature reflects the Kremlin's dominance of Russian politics.
Russia has been negotiating accession to the WTO since 1993 and remains the largest economy outside the world's trade body.
Putin has said on repeated occasions that he would only agree to Russia's membership on acceptable terms.
But economic aides to Medvedev have been pushing for the negotiations to finish within weeks so that Russia could join by year-end.
Biden said he and Shuvalov also discussed US-Russian relations and "agreed on the importance of continuing to strengthen our bilateral relations in a way that promotes the security and prosperity of both countries."
The United States moved to block Moscow's entry after the 2008 Russian military intervention in Georgia, but relations between the two former Cold War adversaries have eased since President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009.
Georgia, a WTO member since 2000, has said it could veto Russia's entry into the world body over the status of the two Russia-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Tbilisi is demanding the right to monitor border crossings in the two regions, recognized as independent states by Moscow after the Georgia-Russia war in August 2008 but regarded by Georgia as parts of its sovereign territory.