Made in Skolkovo*
29 June 2010
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
President Medvedev was visiting Silicon Valley. Our Comrade President was told of the achievements of our American colleagues and in turn invited them to take part in the modernisation of Russia. President Medvedev’s visit had two components – one of them was political.
President Medvedev does not in fact have any authority. He can’t fire and replace anyone in the “power” ministries [TN: Interior, Defence, Justice etc...], can’t get into moneymaking deals, can’t push his pals into important posts. In short, he can’t do anything of what it means to be in power in Russia today. What he can do, though, is tweet on Twitter and lunch with foreign presidents so that they can believe that there are some liberal trends in the Kremlin. That is the job that he was given to do by Vladimir Putin and Medvedev puts his all into it, hoping against hope that the West will one day back him instead of Putin.
What the White House really thought about Medvedev’s to California is easily deduced from its pre-visit briefing given to journalists and its press release following the visit.
The main items in the briefing were: the USA has leading national security policies – non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea, and President Obama’s new policies have made it possible to get Russia’s support for these matters that the USA considers important. The contents of the post-visit press release were just as simple: the USA has leading national security policies – non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea, and President Obama’s new policies have made it possible to get Russia’s support for these matters that the USA considers important.
Plus, the USA calls upon Russia to “cease its occupation of Georgian territories”. And right at the tail-end, after expressing concern over the murder of Natalya Estemirova and the dispersal of demonstrations, the USA “welcomes President Medvdev’s desire for innovations.”
That of course represents a proper agenda for a proper country. Proper states don’t get involved in setting up Silicon Valleys. They handles national security: Iran, Afghanistan, non-proliferation. And they let business get on with the Silicon Valleys. When states rather than businesses get involved in Silicon Valleys, what happens is that you don’t get a Silicon Valley but a Gulag-style sharashka** instead.
Premier Putin has held many talks in many places. Most usually in rogue states like Libya, Venezuela, Bolivia… And when he arrives in Tripoli or wherever it may be, there is frequently an announcement that Russia is cancelling x billion of that country’s debt. in exchange, companies belonging to friends of Putin receive x billion of orders. One can even use this algorithm to work out which countries are Russia’s friends or enemies. Friends are the countries with whose presidents it’s possible to talk personally about making some money together. Enemies are countries whose SOB presidents won’t talk about such things. Bush, now, wouldn’t talk with Putin about arranging for Rosneft to get its hands on a couple of Texas oilfields so that they could make some money together. No nice little talk? Right then – that means the bastard doesn’t like us!
Now President Medvedev is a liberal and he therefore decided that he would nonetheless hold business talks with the enemy on possible cooperation and investments. Not with Obama, of course, but with Microsoft and Google. The media back home cheered: “Hurrah! American companies are signing contracts with Medvedev!.”
Question: which companies signed contracts with Medvedev? Answer: Boeing and Cisco. Please don’t think I’ve got anything against Boeing. It’s a great company. I do, however, have further questions. What is Boeing’s main product? Aircraft. And to whom does it sell its product? To Aeroflot. Given the way things are with Russia’s customs administration, is it possible to sell to Aeroflot without the state’s approval?
No is the answer to that.
What does Cisco make? Routers. Network hardware and software. Name a major user of such kit. Governments. There was a big scandal a couple of years ago: Cisco offered software to China for its Great Firewall and in its presentation said that its products would help «сombat Falun Gong evil religion and other hostiles». Don’t think that I’m criticising Cisco here. Companies have every right to customise their products for their customers, be it to “сombat Falun Gong evil religion” or to streamline and modernise à la Medvedev.
The only point I am making is that the companies who signed contracts with Medvedev are companies whose customer is the Russian state.
If President Medvedev really wanted to modernise Russia, should he not, rather than visit the Microsoft campus, have visited a police station? He could have asked them for their views on this situation: “Not long ago, a businessmen caught the hit-man who had just shot at him and turned the hired killer in to the police – who released him. How much do you charge to release hit-men? We’re concerned that maybe in Russia we are not competitive in this area and are therefore losing out.”
Maybe he should have gone to the US Attorneys and asked about this: “In the town of Taganrog, charges have just been brought against an inventor called Denisenko because he was selling an unlicensed measuring device. While it’s true that Russian law does not require such things to be licensed, this did not stop the attorney from bringing charges. Can you kindly tell me how much the US Attorneys make Intel or Andy Grove pay to avoid charges of making an unlicensed microprocessor?”
Or maybe he should have gone to the FBI and asked for their advice on this: “Our FSB has just had scientist Ivan Petkov from the Institute of Solid State Physics imprisoned for growing artificial sapphires crystals and trying to arrange production of these abroad. How much do Compaq or IBM have to pay you to avoid criminal charges when they set up production facilities in Malaysia? I want to make sure we’ve got our pricing right.”
The police, the US Attorneys or the FBI would find such questions hard to believe. Price lists for the release of killers and the arrest of businessmen?!
Does President Medvedev know that not one instrument for his future innovations can be physically assembled in Russia because each and every component imported from abroad will a) be delayed at customs for several months, b) require that a detailed declaration for each tiny part to be completed, and c) be subjected to such fun rigmaroles as, for example – say one of these tiny parts is a 5-cent microphone, then stand back and watch as the customs say that the “average customs value” of a concert microphone is $100 and duty is to be paid on the basis of that average value?
If President Medvedev does know about these things, that why on earth is he doing in Silicon Valley instead of breaking up the criminal organisation that goes under the name of Russian customs? And if he doesn’t know about these things, that what does he know? How to tweet on Twitter?
Does President Medvedev know that all goods imported into Russia need to be certified? Want to import cosmetics from Europe? Get the products certified in Russia. Want to import wine? That needs to be certified too. Isn’t the EU certification enough?
If he knows about this, why does he sort out this certification issue? And if doesn’t know about this, then what does he know?
Does President Medvedev know that after the Stanford scientists hired by RosNano to evaluate the technical potential of Russian universities have left following their consultations with their Russian colleagues, the FSB will step in and ask the poor fellows why they betrayed their motherland? Does he know that Russian scientists feel like they’re still living in 1937 because there’s an FSB agent or two feeding off them in every institute?
If he know about this, then why does he not forbid the FSB from jailing people right and left in order to get promotions and more pay? And if he doesn’t know about this, then what does he know?
President Medvedev is getting personally involved with businessmen – and that’s a good thing. In Russia, every cop, every KGB-man, and every police detective is also personally involved with businessmen – and that’s a bad thing.
Maybe President Medvedev would do better to get involved with the cops rather than with businessmen? Maybe President Medvedev would do be better to get involved – dare I say it? – with matters of state rather than business matters? You know – get involved in national security, foreign policy, road building (and not just the drives to his dachas). Education. The creation of an independent judiciary. Police reform. Prosecution service reform. Disbandment of the whole customs service, the whole traffic police, the FSB, the State Narcotics Control, the RF Accounts Chamber, and a couple of dozen other ministries and organisations whose officials are nothing more than state-employed criminals, people who only use the state as the instrument with which to commit their crimes.
If here were to do that, it would not be long before business began to grow all by itself. And our Petkovs and Denisovs, if not thrown into jail for their inventions, would turn all by themselves into our Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’.
But in order to take the state in hand, you need to be a statesman. And blogger Medvedev is no such thing.
*TN: for fun, check out the Skokovo website . The most notable thing about this site is the complete absence of real photos. It’s all computer generated pipe dream.
**Sharashka (sometimes Sharaga , Russian: шара́шка, Russian pronunciation: [ʂɐˈraʂkə]) was an informal name for secret research and development laboratories in the Soviet Gulag labor camp system. Etymologically, the word sharashka is derived from a Russian slang expression sharashkina kontora (“Sharashka’s office”, possibly from the radical meaning “to beat about”), an ironic, derogatory term to denote a poorly organized, impromptu, or bluffing organization.