Medvedev signs partnership declaration with Austria, remains coy on presidential bid

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Austrian President Heinz Fischer at the singing ceremony at the Moscow Kremlin, May 19, 2011. (Michael Klimentyev)
President Dmitry Medvedev and his Austrian counterpart, President Heinz Fischer, who is in Russia on an official three-day visit, signed a declaration of partnership for modernization on Thursday in the Kremlin.

The declaration states that the two countries will make efforts to strengthen their economic co-operation, including investment in sectors that promote economic growth and innovation. Heavy emphasis is placed on the sharing of technological know-how, work experience and the joint work of research and educational centers.

The document also paid attention to the mutual development of small- and medium-sized businesses, which serve as the motor of any economy, the leaders noted. Opening up the door to an entrepreneurial-minded economy also got a nod from the two leaders.

President Medvedev has made modernization one of the signature aspects of his presidency, and the decision to co-operate more directly with Austria, which is the 12th-largest investor in Russia, fits in well with the program.

Total trade between Russia and Austrian reached $3.48 billion in 2010, while Austrian investments in the Russian economy hit $4.2 billion in the same period.

It is worth noting that the declaration makes a rather radical departure from the usual standard fare of bilateral statements in that it calls for “a readiness to exchange researchers and technical personnel and facilitate diversified co-operation between highly-skilled personnel,” including at the Skolkovo innovation center, which prides itself as being Russia’s answer to “Silicon Valley.”

A senior Russian diplomat in attendance at the event said the example of “deep partnership” between the two countries could be used as “a template” for pursuing cooperation with other European states, including in the realm of missile defense.

“It can not be ignored that both of our nations’ specialists enjoy skills not available, or known to the other side,” the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to her proximity to the discussions, said on the sidelines of the meeting. "It is only natural that we should want to take advantage of the benefits of mutual co-operation, possibly even on missile defense.”

Incidentally, Russian General Staff Deputy Chief Col. Gen. Valery Gerasimov had a working meeting on Thursday with the head of the Austrian Defense and Sports Ministry's Politics and Security Department, Johann Pucher, to discuss the question of European missile defense, the Russian Defense Ministry announced.

"The meeting focused on bilateral defense and military-technical co-operation. The sides discussed European missile defense and regional and international security," it said.

NATO and Russia are now in the process of working out some sort of method of co-operation between themselves on a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Moscow has repeatedly warned the 28-member military bloc that the system will be viewed as a direct national threat without Russia’s full co-operation.

Meanwhile, the two countries will continue to co-operate in the energy sector, paying special attention to energy-saving techniques as the world begins to accept the reality of a changing environment.

At the same time, Medvedev and Fischer showed their green credentials by urging the global community to do everything in its power to reach agreements on a universal and legally binding international agreement on climate change.

The 34th UN Climate Change Summit is scheduled for June in Bonn, Germany.

To better understand the agenda between the two leaders, accompanying President Medvedev was Presidential Aide Sergey Prikhodko, Russian Ambassador to Vienna Sergey Nechayev, Education and Science Minister Andrey Fursenko, Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko, Samara Region Governor and Co-Chairman of the Russian-Austrian Business Council Vladimir Artyakov, as well as deputy heads of a number of government agencies.

Austria pops the big question

In response to a question by an Austrian reporter, Medvedev, reiterating what he had said yesterday at his major Q&A media session in Moscow, said that he could run in the 2012 presidential election.

The journalist, cleverly framing her question, asked the Russian leader whether it could be expected that after the presidential elections are held in Russia in 2012, Medvedev will be the Austrian president's "direct partner."

“If you put the question this way:'Can one hope [that Dmitry Medvedev will meet with the Austrian president in 2012 as his Russian counterpart],' the answer is 'absolutely,'"

Medvedev responded.


Middle East “window of opportunity”

The Russian leader warned on Thursday that the international community must take advantage of a "window of opportunity" in the Middle East settlement.

Speaking at a press conference after meeting with his Austrian counterpart on Thursday, Medvedev said: "The fact is that the dramatic changes, which happened in the Middle East and North Africa last year, could create additional problems for international life and for the situation on the continent."

“It is very important to use new window of opportunity" for calming the situation in the affected regions, he added.

The Russian president also said the two leaders had discussed the possibility of convening a conference on the Middle East settlement jointly with his Austrian colleague.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer will also meet with other leading Russian politicians over the next three days.

"The Austrian leader's visit  program also envisions meetings  with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, and participation in the opening of a Russian-Austrian business  forum," the Kremlin press service told Interfax.

Fischer’s visit will also take him to Tatarstan.

Russia’s WTO accession

Speaking at a business forum on Thursday, Fischer said Austria upheld Russia's accession bid to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"We believe that this is a reasonable step," the Austrian president said, adding, "Austria intends to contribute to expanding relations between Russia and the EU."

"We hope for long-term co-operation with Russia. The strengthening of our relations will help sign an agreement on partnership for modernisation and other documents, which will allow both parties to strengthen trust," Fischer said.

President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sergey Katyrin said, "Friendly relations unite Russia and Austria. In particular, they facilitate effective interaction between the chambers of the two countries."

"We hope to make up for lost time due to the financial crisis. High-tech co-operation and the development of inter-regional contacts are our priorities," he said.

Robert Bridge, RT