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, 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…)