Russia Update: Internet Ombudsman Provokes Storm of Protest

October 15, 2015
Russia's presidential Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev. Photo by Ramil Sitdikov/RIA Novosti

An Internet official unleashed a storm of protest with his call for ending the training of IT specialists as it only fed brain-drain.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Translations:
The Non-Hybrid War
Kashin Explains His ‘Letter to Leaders’ on ‘Fontanka Office’
TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
‘I Was on Active Duty’: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov


Russian Opposition Plans March to Protest Putin’s War in Syria

The Russian opposition groups Solidarity and December 5 Party have obtained permission to stage a protest on this Saturday, October 17 against the Kremlin’s air strikes in Syria, reported October 15.

The organizers said in a notice on their web site that they were “against the war because we do not want the killing of civilians and Russian soldiers for the sake of keeping in power the brutal Assad regime.” They also  noted that Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict “is virtually counter to the actions of the international coalition” and furthers Russia’s isolation (translation by The Interpreter):

We are against this war because Russia cannot allow itself to spend billions on a far-away war at the expense of the further worsening of the welfare of its own citiznes, the freezing of pension funds and the refusal to index pensions [for inflation].

So far of 1,400 invited, 270 said they planned to attend and 147 may attend, according to a Facebook page.

Aleksey Mayorov, head of the Moscow city department of regional security and anti-corruption, said the permit allowed a maximum of 300 persons at the event, Interfax reported.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia’s IT Business Leaders Object to Kremlin Internet Ombudsman’s Call to End IT Training

As we reported earlier, Russian social media and the independent press have been in an uproar about controversial statements made by Russia’s Internet ombudsman to the effect that the Kremlin shouldn’t invest in IT training now due to brain drain and achieve adaptation of its technology through military dominance.

At a meeting of Russia’s Civic Chamber, a body founded by President Vladimir Putin that ostensibly monitors government but is packed with his supporters, Dmitry Marinichev, the presidential Internet ombudsman debated the wisdom of continuing to train the programmers for which Russia has become famous when they mainly end up at Google or Facebook. He commented that Russia’s military dominance may lead to some technology adaptation (translation by The Interpreter):

“First an army comes on a territory, then merchants, and then there is state power and a market. It’s only that way, and no other way. Therefore if at a government level we chose the regimen of ‘Russia against all,’ then we will have no chance to sell our products and technologies except by conducting geopolitical expansion in the world.” followed up with a number of technology leaders to get their reaction to Marinichev’s pronouncement. Sergei Toporov, investment management for Leta Capital said he believed Russia’s Internet industry was in fact slowly growing and it was only American companies’ ability to market their product that was superior, not their technical designs. To understand the issue of IT training only in terms of government investment was too narrow, he said, as most programmers advanced by self-teaching and learning from peers. Russia should work on making good products and improving its image rather than trying to kill competition with “import substitution” or “military interventions,” he said.

Artyom Elmuratov, founder of Genotek, said Singapore had managed to build strong IT businesses despite its own brain drain. A quarter of his own company’s engineers were now at companies like Google and Facebook, he admitted, but good specialists remained. The job of the government should solve its own problems and not clash with other countries “particularly by counting on its military potential,” he noted.

Evgeny Ivanov, head of the shopping site said other than the Soviet-era ES EVM, the social network VKontakte and the Yotaphone, he didn’t see very many Russian IT products that had been successfully exported. The Soviet Union’s mistake was the “Iron Curtain” and only through free intellectual and technological development could Russia compete in the global market; he cited Peter the Great’s reign as an example of modernization (although others might recall St. Petersburg was built on the bones of slave laborers.)

Another IT specialist also reached to Russia’s long history for instructive examples. Aleksandr Lyamin founder of Qrator Labs, a company which helps deter DDoS attacks, said “leadership in science is not connected to the power of the army.” As an example, he cited the Borodino-class ship Alexander III, representing the latest technology of the time derived from the French, which nevertheless sunk in the Russo-Japanese war. No country has ever managed to stop brain drain by laws or force, and Russia needed “a real, not an extractive sector of the economy,” he said.

Vitaly Dubinin, founder of iD EAt which develops mobile apps said more pragmatically that the defense sector was one of the greatest drivers of innovation but that it was important private investment not just government support be involved as it was better at finding winners. Russia should concentrate more on providing guarantees for private capital through an independent court system.

Konstantin Kopyltsov, director of Polonium Arts, a software design company, said that not all programmers wanted to emigrate and the government should promote small business. His company, for example, brought young people from Bryansk (one of the poorest regions of Russia) to give them an opportunity to develop and create domestic projects.

Aleksandr Laryanovsky, head of a start-up called SkyEng to teach English online concluded there were no longer any competent people in government. “They aren’t capable of creation, they only know how to issue bans and destroy,” he concluded about Marinichev’s presentation.

Russia today indeed has a sizable community of IT business leaders and computer programmers’ associations, yet taken together as a lobby, they have been unable to stop moves by Putin that have clearly been bad for business, such as the demand to register bloggers with more than 3,000 readers; to submit to further intrusion of customers by the FSB; and the requirement that foreign companies have to locate servers on Russian soil.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Internet Ombudsman Provokes Storm of Protest with Comment that Kremlin Shouldn’t Train IT and Only Military Dominance Sustains Technology

A Russian Internet official caused a furor today with remarks he made during a session of the Civic Chamber, an institution created by President Vladimir Putin to monitor the government which in fact is packed with his supporters.

In a presentation about “import substitution,” Russia’s program to replace Western-manufactured products with domestic ones in the face of Western sanctions, Dmitry Marinichev, the presidential ombudsman for the Internet, said “I honestly and openly say – if you want to harm the country, you’ll invest in training of IT specialists on the territory of the RF. It’s impossible to do more harm,” Kommersant and reported.

He also said (translation by The Interpreter):

“We can give technology to other countries only when we have a military presence [there]. When other countries will not have an alternative option than to get it from us.”

His statement may have been intended as a stark reality check but was an unwitting insight into the Kremlin’s psychology  — that Russia, in the past a country that not only sustained a lot of computer programmers but exported a lot of them, notably to Silicon Valley — could no longer justify this expense given that it could not compete with the United States (and one could add,
with China). Only if Russia succeeded in taking over other countries, essentially, could it force its wares on them, he indicated.

The statement unleashed a storm of protest not only among the IT community but intellectuals in general and was indicative for many of the self-destructive policies of the Putin regime.

Translation: @Igor_Gladkov And his colleague Marinichev announced that Russia is up the ass, and the USA is ahead of the whole planet and the hell with funding science and funding specialists.

Translation: Marinichev is an asshole. I tell you this as a programmer.
Translation: Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev: “If you want to harm the country, you should invest in IT…”
Translation: WTF should he explain RT @ru_rbc Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev explained his statements about the harm of IT specialists for Russia.
Translation: [Chita News] what did Dmitry Marinichev get the Internet mad over?
Translation: Is the RF Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev an idiot or a total idiot?

Translation: Today in the column “Expert Thoughts” on the Internet ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev. I am shouting from this expert.

Marinichev’s dark pronouncements seemed to indicate the end of reform efforts to diversify Russia from its oil-dependent and militarized economy, particularly in conjunction with a recent statement by BTB Bank president Andrei Kostin that it was “pointless” to invest in small and medium businesses because there was no consumer demand for them,

Marinichev later said his words were taken out of context and that others at the meeting could have said the same thing, reported. added that he explained that a programmer “will beg” to get jobs in foreign companies and try to depart for the West. A participant in the meeting, Boris Glazkov, head of Rostelekom’s
Center for Strategic Innovations said Marinichev said training IT specialists was doomed because it only contributed to brain drain. followed up with an interview of Marinichev who said he stood by his statements but that he was outlining only one option, and hadn’t expected it to be perceived as an absolute position. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt: [But] it is expected when people don’t understand why, instead of theses about how to create conditions for innovation, they heard a phrase about military presence.

Marinichev: I am saying absolutely banal things which have been well known since the time of the Roman Empire. First an army comes on a territory, then merchants, and then there is state power and a market. It’s only that way, and no other way. Therefore if at a government level we chose the regimen of ‘Russia against all,’ then we will have no chance to sell our products and technologies except by conducting geopolitical expansion in the world.

And since the world is in any event divided, that will lead to an inevitable confrontation with those countries that already are present in a given region. It’s the same thing that the Soviet
Union did by spreading the ideological of socialism, technologies and in fact its model on the whole world. And accordingly, the BRICS and other countries must fall under the geopolitical influence of Russia as a dominant center. I am  not being sarcastic here.

Therefore it’s a question of how events will unfold. If there is Europe, England, the US, Canada and against them Brazil, China, India and Russia — regarldess of under which protectorate a
country will be under — that’s one situation. If there will be a third country, there will be a third source of technological domination.

Russia may believe it dominates BRICS, but some analysts such as Keith Darden of American University have pointed out that there may be no non-West for Russia to lead, as China and the
other members are better integrated with the West. commented that Russia could simply participate in the world market by creating a good product, but Marinichev countered that Russia would have to integrate into the global economy and accept that it will never dominate, for example in processor technology.

Marinichev: But today, that balance is impossible since a clearly-expressed confrontation is underway between the Western world and Russia. Whether Russia is guilty here or not is not important. What’s important is the status quo, and it is impossible to discuss technological export and import substitution because we must produce everything ourselves totally and completely. In that context, preparing IT specialists for foreign base technjologies is essentially to undermine Russia’s sovereignty.

I don’t want to look at that option because it is unacceptable. We have all managed to live as citizens of the global world, freely moving about — a vacation in Italy, a merry-go-round ride in America. But it could happen that everything will change. And the question of what method of technology transfer to use lies on that plane — who we are and what we want and where. Russia is incapable of producing an IT product of interest to the whole world?

Marinichev: We cannot make any breakthroughs in technology if we depend on the owners of technology. For example, when Intel designs a new processor, the first company it shares its thoughts with is Microsoft. And together, they develop a device and programming complex. Here’s the question: how can we develop an operating system overtaking Microsoft if we don’t have a margin, since we don’t have access to their knowledge. That’s it, it’s a vicious circle.

Marinichev said that Russia would have to make its own processor, compelling enough to make a company like Intel want to share knowledge with it.  Asked to clarify whether he meant training IT workers was futile as it was only supplying them to foreigners, he replied:

Marinichev: No, that’s not the case. The training of our programmers is a useless occupation today, but only if we open up the market and make a comfortable market for the founding of creative collectives and companies in Russia which can sell their product to the whole world. If we don’t do that, then all the creative collectives and all the programmers will instantly move abroad. That is the practice of the last two years.

Marinichev said he had acquaintances among programmers who had left the
country to get better jobs abroad and could understand them “at a human
level” and that “conditions inside the country have to change.” He
believed they would return, however as “language defines consciousness
and a person who has grown up in this environment is drawn to the
society where he is comfortable.”

Under the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian government opened up the Skolkovo innovation center outside of Moscow, which at first had some Western investment interest, but then after Putin returned to the presidency, the Skolkovo Foundation was accused of corruption and Ilya Ponomarev, a parliamentarian and head of the Committee on Technology who had promoted start-ups in Russia was accused of being overpaid for holding investment seminars. He was also the only member of the State Duma to vote against the annexation of the Crimea. After a campaign of villification in the state media and charges were pressed demanding he return his consulting fees, he fled to the US.

Now, with Putin taking over the Russian Internet and his ombudsman causing a furor, Medvedev is now more ridiculed than hailed for using technology that Russian nationalists want to ban, and for proving ineffective in protecting his reforms.

Translation: Medvedev has received a 1st-degree award “For services to the Fatherland”

The collage shows various fake medals: “‘Trained for Sleep'” Pin,”
“‘Innovator’ Nano-medal,” “‘Hero of Instragram’ Medal” and “‘For
Occupation of the i-Phone.”

A parody account of the Kremlin propaganda site @SputnikIntl published a widely-used meme of Medvedev taking a selfie posed in various odd situations:

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick