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Skolkovo: Russia’s Silicon Valley or hollow real estate project?

By Blog Admin, on 20 February 2013

Many Western journalists see it as a Russian Silicon Valley, but to date the Skolkovo innovation city has been less silicon and more shiny new buildings and federal roubles. It still tells us a lot a about politics and economics in Russia today, argues Imogen Wade

Skolkovo Silicon Valley

Image: Applied Nomadology via Wikimedia Commons

Skolkovo, Russia’s newest and most Western-oriented centre of innovation, has received much media attention from Russia and abroad.

Some coverage, like that in the Irish Times and Wall Street Journal has been full of praise, boldly proclaiming that Skolkovo will be Russia’s ‘window on the world of technology’, as  St Petersburg – built on a swamp land by Peter the Great in the 18th century –  was once Russia’s ‘window on Europe’. Others  hint at troubles ahead for Skolkovo tied to Putin taking over as president again in 2012.

Many more are more dubious of Skolkovo’s chances of success. The leading Russian economics magazine  Kommersant Dyengi published a controversial article in September 2012 which argued that Skolkovo had become nothing more than a real estate project. A survey of educated Russians in 2011 found that people were largely sceptical that Skolkovo could be successful given Russia’s corruption, bureaucracy and unstable political and economic climate. 

What is Skolkovo?

Launched in 2010, Skolkovo is the most high-profile and newest manifestation of a policy shift in Russia towards economic diversification, innovation-based growth and modernisation that began around 2002. Situated about 20km from Moscow city on farmland once used for growing cucumbers, Skolkovo aims to be a physical and virtual ‘cluster’ of firms, researchers and graduate students promoting technological innovations and providing high quality infrastructure, human capital and a corporate environment that will encourage technological innovations. All activities relate to one of five pre-determined themes, which are also Russia’s strategic science priorities: IT, biomedical sciences, energy-efficiency, space, and nuclear technologies. (more…)

“Medvedev is written off by Russian commentators, but they might find they’ve done so too soon”

By Blog Admin, on 14 December 2012

Dmitry Medvedev in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, November 2011-28

Photo: www.kremlin.ru Creative Commons license

Russia’s former President – and current prime minister – Dmitrii Medvedev is sometimes seen as a political puppet of Vladimir Putin. However, as Pete Duncan tells SSEES Research Blog, Medvedev’s role may have been underestimated.

 SSEESResBlog: Medvedev is often seen as a politically weak figure, wholly dependent on Putin. US diplomats privately described him as playing Robin to Putin’s Batman. Why does he deserve a whole chapter in your book on Russian foreign policy?

 PD: As president Medvedev had responsibility for foreign and security policy and Putin specifically gave him that responsibility. Even though Putin was still the most powerful figure in Russia at the time, it’s clear from looking over the four years that Medvedev made his mark on foreign policy. His foreign policy was separate from and different to that of Putin.

 This was partly a matter of style – that’s the most obvious difference – but style can become a matter of substance. And that’s what happened. As soon as Medvedev got the opportunity to change the state of relations, which had got so bad. Already in 2007-8 but then with the war in Georgia, Russia’s relations with the West were the worst they had ever been since the fall of the Soviet Union.

 When Barrack Obama came to power and the new American administration decided, they had to have the reset and Medvedev took full advantage of that. Now Russia and America were on friendly terms again. It’s very hard to see Putin with his KGB and macho background being able to pull that off. Or even getting support from the American side for it. (more…)

Greedy presidents

By Blog Admin, on 25 October 2012

 Presidents in the former Soviet Union need to play a shrewd political game to stay in power, argues Andrew Wilson

Victor Yanukovic 25dec09 3125

Viktor Yanukovych Photo: Roland Goodman

Most East European states are a long way from democratic; but the stability of their regimes depends on respecting certain rules of the game, such as dividing the spoils. It is normally the President who acts as ‘Lord of The Rings’ to keep the various circles of interest in balance – though there are several ways of playing the role. The president may be above the game, or he may control the key forces of balance in the game, like kompromat or ‘judicial resources’. He may be a player himself (less likely herself), which would give him weight; but if he and his supporters win control of too many resources they will not be trusted by the other players.

More than twenty years after the fall of the USSR, ‘transition’ may be a forlorn hope, but time can undermine balance: several East European regimes are now showing destabilising signs of incumbents’ greed. (more…)

LGBT rights under attack in Russia

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

Putin Medvedev Berlin gay pride poster

Poster at Berlin Gay Pride/CSD event, July 2012

Anti-LGBT legislation in St Petersburg is having unforeseen consequences and mobilising Russia’s ‘gay diasporas’ overseas, argues Richard Mole

Almost 20 years after it was decriminalised, homosexuality in Russia is coming under renewed attack.  In March St Petersburg became the fourth Russian city to adopt legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. While commentators argued that the vagueness of the law, which bans ‘public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism among minors’, would make it difficult to bring successful prosecutions against transgressors, LGBT rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev was convicted in May for breaching the law by picketing St Petersburg City Hall with a banner, which read ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion’.

 Alexeyev’s insistence that there were no minors present at the City Hall can be taken as proof, if proof were needed, that the law was not motivated by a desire to protect Russian children or Russian society but is the latest in a series of legislative measures used by the state to intimidate political opponents and generate an atmosphere of legal disquiet. Were activists to go ahead and hold meetings or rallies which were subsequently attacked, police could use the law to justify not intervening to protect activists, as the events could be deemed ‘homosexual propaganda’ –  a criminal offence. (more…)

Belarus: the last European dictatorship

By Blog Admin, on 31 October 2011

Cover of Belarus The Last European Dictatorship by Andrew Wilson The authoritarian regime of Aliasandr Lukashenka in Belarus has historical roots but little future, explains Andrew Wilson in his new book

Belarus hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in December 2010. After another rigged election, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, whom Condoleezza Rice once dubbed the ‘last dictator in Europe’, jailed scores of protestors, including three of the candidates who had had the cheek to stand against him. A still unexplained bomb on the Minsk metro in April killed fourteen. Demonstrations began again in the summer, inspired by the Arab Spring and ignited by a post-election economic collapse, with activists experimenting with social networks and ’silent protests’ to try and avoid arrest, not always successfully.

My book tries to explain how Belarus got into this mess, which I can at least claim was predicted by the last two chapters entitled ‘The Edifice Crumbles’ and ‘The Myth of the Belarusian Economic Miracle’.

The story goes back a long way – as many people argue that, paradoxically, Belarus has no real history. But the weakness of national identity in the present is not because Belarus lacks a past, but because the lands that are now Belarus have long been part of other states and projects. I therefore avoided using the term ‘Belarus’ until chapter five (‘Belarus Begins’). (more…)