Why Putin’s Russia is Doomed to Fail

Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came to visit California this week, he sent a warship ahead. After docking at San Francisco, the captain insisted that the battle cruiser’s visit was a sign of friendship.

If that were so, why didn’t Medvedev send a ballet company or a cultural exhibit to coincide with his visit, instead of a war vessel bristling with big guns and cruise-missile launchers? But then Russians can be a pugnacious people, and Medvedev wanted to make a point: Don’t take us for granted. We are still an important power.

That might be, but Medvedev chose to visit a part of the United States that boldly demonstrates two of Russia’s greatest weaknesses: creativity and innovation. “It’s not by chance that I came here,” Medvedev admitted to an audience at Stanford University. “I wanted to see with my own eyes the origin of success.” And it’s no wonder: Can you think of a significant Russian technological invention of recent times?

The problem isn’t the Russian people. Thousands of them are at work across Silicon Valley creating the very products and services Medvedev came to emulate.

No, the problem is the Russian government, still a brutal, capricious bureaucracy guilty of “contract-style killings,” the State Department says, “continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, along with corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law” and “continuing media restrictions” that “result in an erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the population.”

Medvedev offered a typically Russian 10-point plan to tackle these issues and others in a nasty thicket of related problems. He read the list from an Apple iPad, occasionally swiping his finger up or down when he lost his place. Actually, when he finished, he’d cited 11 points, and I could have listed half a dozen more. For example, he said nothing about media censorship along with the harassment, intimidation and killing of journalists.

But the way Medvedev told it, all of that will change. And an engine of that change will be a new Russian Silicon Valley in Skolkovo, a Moscow suburb. In California, he met with executives at Cisco, Apple, Twitter. He wore jeans, a jacket and an open-collar shirt – the local uniform. Introducing him to the Stanford audience, provost John Etchemendy noted that he was among the first Russians to get an iPhone. Medvedev nodded and with a grin held up his iPad.

He might be an early adapter, but the hurdles his nation faces are daunting. Russians and foreigners who dare to invest in the country too often find that once they succeed, they are thrown in jail and their properties confiscated or nationalized.

For example, William Browder, the largest foreign-portfolio investor in Russia, was denied re-entry to Russia and his companies confiscated after he tried to expose corruption, the Wall Street Journal reported. One of his lawyers was arrested and died in prison when his jailors refused to provide medical treatment. “My advice to U.S. technological companies” that Medvedev tried to woo this week “is to steer clear of Russia because it’s insanity to go there,” he told the paper.

Meeting with Stanford officials before his speech, Medvedev was clearly aware of the troubles his initiatives face.

“Unfortunately for us,” he said, “venture capitalism is not going so well so far. No one wants to take the risk. It’s a problem of culture, Steve Jobs told me today. We need to change the mentality.”

18 responses to “Why Putin’s Russia is Doomed to Fail

  1. Good intentions of innovations and “modernization” being declared by the President but whatever they think or hope the road to Russian “Sillicon Valley” (read: Skolkovo) goes through the politically motivated court over Khodorkovsky. Much depends on the trust to this President. Unfortunately, “brutal force” (in cooperation with bureacratism) prevails over intelligence and culture in Russia. Some time it may end but.. The roots of communist/bolshevist methods are still there..That’s why we have what we have now so far..

    • What’s most interesting about it all is the West sets some preconditions for cooperation every time Russia seeks it.

      What’s not surprising is, though, West fails to overcome it’s own prejudices and start some real cooperation even if Russia fulfills these preconditions.

      There was no cooperation in the 90ies. In 2000s. There is no real cooperation right now with Ukraine, or Latvia, or Georgia. West just uses all these countries, but life there sucks much more than it did in 1980.

      • Dmytry,
        If you want to see where ‘life sucks’ go east from Moscow and see 80% of Russians living like animals without running water, gas or electricity; hungry and diseased. The problem is that RUSSIANS ACCEPT THIS CONDITIONS IN THE NAME OF ‘IDIOCY’ CALLED RUSSIAN EMPIRE. Conclusion; Russians are born slaves, let’s keep them on the other side of Ural Mountains…..

  2. Hard to agree on this. At least, it goes about Russia’ interests in the West’s investments here (not just “cooperation” in broad sense). If we compare, it is more natural for the West to choose cooperation as it’s the market’s logics – “trade, not war”. For Russia it seems to be more natural to seek for “additional” enemies or reasons to withdraw from cooperation – keeping the current status quo justified and void of critisism. Preconditions of the West seem to be just claims to have common rules of game – it’s problematic to go investing into a foreign country where authorities may at the final moment come to decide on new /changed rules of game.. So, again, the influx of resources (brains, finances etc) to Russia much depend on the fair system and clear rules of game to still be established. That’s it. Very simple. All the rest is just political compaigns and new ways to “spend” the state money.. Hope, this won’t be the case with the Skolkovo idea.

    • No sh*t, Vladimir! In Russia’s interests, and, judging by your post, in Russia’s only:)

      The West is soo philanthropical – chooses trade not war just because the West is good. Russia chooses war over trade b/c it’s just bad:)

      West is for just rules and a fair game, while Russia is for cheating and tricking:)

      West is a democracy with the rule of law, while Russia is a totalitarian state with the rule of criminals/ KGB/ beurocracy.

      The main problem with these simple black and white pictures is they are so simple and black and white.

      Care to explain why Poland, or Lithuania, democracies, do not export absolutely no hi tech? And why their industry was all created by the USSR? Or why China does? Why Russia does?

      And care to explain why China does not feel like revaluating Yuan? And why the US is not playing the Kyoto games? Aren’t fair rules better for them?

      And please give me some insights on what leads Microsoft and Apple and a myriad of others to move their production facilities to a totalitarian state, and out of a democracy?

      And then add some more on what fair rules were – and are – there behind Iraq? And why these fair rules do not work in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia?

      And what are fair drugs trade rules NATO adheres to in Afghanistan? And why it does not follow them in Columbia?

      Seems to me, once again I’m talking to an idealist. Or a hypocrite.

      Please care to give answer to any one of my questions about fair rules, and we’re going back to Skolkovo.

      • Dmitry,

        Can you please also tell us how a Lada is better than a Cadillac?

        Thanks in advance.

      • Dmitry, you look to be a “professional disputant”.. (Since you started “labeling” your opponents [hypocryte I seem to be], I’ll take your manner as well] Although, not a decent one “piling up” the issue of discussion with not relevant things and questions. Kind of DOS-attack on human brain:) A known tactics of the pro-Kremlin’s chain hackers on the opposition sites..
        So, relax and put it simpler again. Yes, the West is not uniform and there are “bad guys” there as well, but we have been talking about the systems which means, again, the Skolkovo idea will be another “Potemkin’s village” untill the authorities take care to understand that there is need in respect of political rights and justice in the country and there are other not less important things moving the progress, not just money and the top political ambitions. The West, no matter how bad it is in your eyes (it may be personal?) has one major advantage – normal market system in economy and real (not fake or “sovereign”) democracy. With all their black spots.
        And indeed, why our bureaucrats (just take the State Duma only) tend to choose foreign cars, not LADA’s? Where is their patriotism?

  3. Joel Brinkley is NOT a professor at Stanford. He is a “visiting professional” according to the Stanford webpage http://comm.stanford.edu/faculty/
    which means he doesn’t even have tenure.

  4. This is why:

    Why Are Russia’s Children Killing Themselves?

    By Claire Bigg, Anastasia Kirilenko, and Alexander Kulygin

    MOSCOW — Time has stood still in Sayid Fekhretdinov’s bedroom.

    A school bag, heavy with books, lies unopened on the floor. Toy animals stand silently arranged on dusty shelves. On the desk, a framed photograph shows a slender, dark-eyed boy staring pensively into the camera.

    “We need to go through his books,” says Sayid’s father, Ramil, looking wearily at a shelf crowded with textbooks and notepads. “Maybe we’ll find a note from him between the pages. But right now it’s too difficult. It makes us cry.”

    Four months ago, Sayid jumped to his death from a fourth-story window in their Moscow flat. He was just 10 years old.

    Since then, Ramil and Sayid’s mother, Marina, have left his room almost untouched. They say they are still struggling to come to terms with the fact that their son, still several years short of his teens, found life so distressing he chose to commit suicide.

    “You have to listen to your child’s every breath, every sound, every word,” says Ramil, a stocky 58-year-old. “If you don’t overlook anything, everything will be OK. But we let him slip away.”

    Sayid was far from alone. An estimated 2,500 children and teenagers commit suicide every year in Russia, an estimate that is twice the per-capita average of Western countries like France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. And the number is on the rise, with psychologists saying the evaporation of social safety nets has made life difficult for children and parents alike.

    The problem of child suicide has grown so pronounced that even the state is taking note, with the press tracking a mounting toll of cases and lawmakers sounding the alarm. So far, however, there are no easy answers as to why Russia’s children are killing themselves, or how to stop it.

    ‘They’ve Killed Me’

    In Sayid’s case, his parents didn’t have to look far to conclude what went wrong. At home, Sayid was a well-behaved, bright, and imaginative boy who loved playing computer games, writing poetry, and watching nature documentaries on TV. He had recently discovered a passion for the Japanese language and had won a trophy in boxing.

    The trouble, Ramil and Marina believe, was at school. Sayid was a student at Heroes of Sevastopol naval cadet school, one of more than 100 state-sponsored institutions that have cropped up in Russia in recent years with the aim of adding military, patriotic, and religious components to otherwise standard school curriculum.

    Heroes of Sevastopol was convenient — located in the courtyard directly across from Sayid’s house in the neighborhood of Strogino in northwest Moscow. Sayid had always dreamed of being a soldier and had been excited about studying in cadet school. During his three years at the school, teachers and administrators described him as a cooperative, conscientious student with excellent grades.

    But he was deeply unhappy. Ramil and Marina say as early as his first year there, Sayid — who was small for his age, despite his boxing training — was frequently harassed by his fellow students, coming home with bruises and scrapes. The parents also claim Sayid was sexually threatened by one of the teachers, an accusation the school has firmly denied.

    His parents believe his Muslim name and Tatar features caused him to be singled out in a school where the majority of the students and faculty are ethnic Russians. Marina is Russian and a devout Orthodox believer, but Ramil, an ethnic Tatar, raised his son in the Muslim faith. At least one teacher at Heroes of Sevastopol conceded to RFE/RL that Sayid may have had problems at school “because he was a Tatar.”

    Marina and Ramil asked for Sayid to be excused from after-school activities, hoping that would provide some relief. But the scuffles continued. Early this year, Sayid was hospitalized for more than a week after what his parents say was a particularly savage beating at school.

    “He had bruises all over his head,” his father remembers. “He could hardly walk. He came up to me leaning against the wall. He was crying and repeating, ‘Dad, they’ve killed me.'”

    Ramil Fekhretdinov now believes it was this final assault that might have pushed Sayid over the edge.

    “He was completely changed,” he says of his son shortly after the beating. “I think he understood that something irreparable had happened to him.”

    Almost three weeks later, on February 16, Marina was alone in the apartment with Sayid, whom she described as deeply distressed.

    “He was very, very, very agitated. He grabbed at everything around him,” says Marina, an anguished-looking 48-year-old who remained largely silent during an interview, deferring frequently to Ramil. “He had such bad headaches that he couldn’t stand the light and wore sunglasses. He was completely disoriented. He kept switching from one idea to another.”

    Marina says she spent most of the day anxiously trailing her son “like a cat.” When he finally settled in behind his computer, she stepped into the kitchen to wash some dishes. It was then that Sayid, unwatched, climbed onto the ledge of the apartment’s living-room window.

    Sensing something was wrong, Marina rushed into the room just in time to see him jump. The window Sayid had chosen looked out over Heroes of Sevastopol.

    Growing Trend

    The past few months have seen an alarming string of suicides in Russia, many involving students who had fared poorly in school.

    A 16-year-old boy who jumped to his death from a seventh-floor window in front of his family.

    A 13-year-old who shot himself with a hunting rifle.

    A single school in Svedlovsk Oblast has lost a total of five students to suicide, the most recent a 15-year-old boy who hanged himself in the courtyard of his house. Prosecutors have attributed the deaths to an “unhealthy climate” in the school.

    The numbers of young people killing themselves always go up in the spring during end-of-term exams, says Aleksei Kasatkin, who handles suicide cases for an investigative unit in a Moscow local prosecutor’s office. “That’s life,” he sighs.


  5. sascha_hero Germany

    The american citizens with “russian roots” don´t want to be russians any longer,they are proud americans and most of them hate russia and it´s criminal Kremlin-Vampires!

  6. In one of the articles about Medvedev’s visit to Silicon valley I read (sorry, do not remember which one) that one of the Russians working there or may be it was Steve Jobs told the mini-president that “It is a state of mind not a place” that encourages creativity !! Scolkovo is doomed.

    • The Russians working in Silicon valley all seem to have said that the idea of building a Silicon valley in Russia was, to say the least, ridiculous.

  7. Professor Brinkey wrote;

    Before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came to visit California this week, he sent a warship ahead. After docking at San Francisco, the captain insisted that the battle cruiser’s visit was a sign of friendship.


    May I enquire WHAT TYPE OF RUSSIAN WARSHIP docked at San Francisco’s Bay. Let me guess- thirty year old junk, Kursk type, perhaps. Russians want to scare us – isn’t it amusing????

  8. Dmitry,

    Check out this Russian classic for sale:


    Reasonable value too! No tyre kickers please!

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