FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Problem With Russia’s Silicon Valley Scheme

by BORIS KAGARLITSKY

Russia’s Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomaryov once said, “To steal one ruble, it is first necessary to spend nine inefficiently.” That slogan should adorn the entrance to the Skolkovo technology park as its official motto.

Scientists and scholars predicted from the outset that nothing good would come from the Skolkovo venture. The project was not designed in response to a concrete need or to fulfill a clearly defined task. It was simply dreamed up by a group of senior officials who know nothing about science or technological research. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has given countless speeches about the need for innovation and modernization, hoping that the endless repetition of those two words would produce, like an incantation, a magical effect upon the economy even as it continued to lose its scientific and technological potential. Meanwhile, entrepreneurial individuals close to him found ways to waste or misappropriate billions of rubles of budgetary funds.

Most observers found the very idea that Russia could recreate a Silicon Valley by presidential decree to be ludicrous. The real Silicon Valley in California did not emerge as some abstract center of innovation but was organized by the U.S. military-industrial complex to create reliable communications systems for objects flying at high speeds and altitudes. Those space and aviation projects required new electronics and all research was directly tied to the demands of production. The scientists were brought together in a single geographic location because secrecy and control over the work had to be maintained, and they had to be in physical proximity to collaborate effectively. Personal computers, mobile communications and Internet technology were all byproducts of defense programs and together have led to what is now called the post-industrial era.

Silicon Valley continues to draw countless young high-tech professionals but now for entirely different reasons: its pleasant climate, comfortable living conditions and the chance to meet interesting people.

In many ways, Skolkovo was the exact opposite of Silicon Valley from the very beginning. The emphasis was on private business, not a cooperative effort to solve a larger scientific or technical challenge. Nobody can say in advance which concrete result they are even working toward except to speak in generalities about “innovation.”

Such “innovations” have nothing in common with solid scientific research and discoveries carried out by different methods and in other locales. At the very least, it is strange to spend millions of dollars on a dubious undertaking when existing scientific centers, institutes and communities such as Akademgorodok are tottering on the edge of extinction. Scientists from a range of countries were invited to simply drop work they had been pursuing for many years, abandon the laboratories they had developed at great effort, walk away from their ordered lives and their circle of professional and personal contacts, and all only to move to Skolkovo, an awkward set of buildings rising up amid wide open muddy fields.

The current corruption scandals clearly demonstrate that Skolkovo has already failed as a scientific and technological project but has proven an amazing success as a place where millions of dollars can be given out to the right people without their having to account for work accomplished.

Today, Duma deputies are indignantly asking why the Skolkovo project has paid out nearly $750,000 to Ponomaryov, who at the time of the contract had no experience in high technology or innovation projects. But it was he who formulated the principle on which the entire Skolkovo venture was built. The others have not even made that much of a contribution to science.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.

Boris Kagarlitsky PhD is a historian and sociologist who lives in Moscow. He is a prolific author of books on the history and current politics of the Soviet Union and Russia and of books on the rise of globalized capitalism. Fourteen of his books have been translated into English. The most recent book in English is ‘From Empires to Imperialism: The State and the Rise of Bourgeois Civilisation’ (Routledge, 2014). Kagarlitsky is chief editor of the Russian-language online journal Rabkor.ru (The Worker). He is the director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, located in Moscow.

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail