Democracy and Innovation: Mr Putin’s Very Very Large White Elephant.
Posted by democratist on April 21, 2011
21st April 2011,
Apart from its political implications, the most interesting thing about Prime Minister Putin’s speech to the Duma yesterday is what he said with regard the future of Russia’s five trillion rouble military innovation programme, and how this optimistic vision conflicts with the current state of the Russia defence sector as we see it.
Democratist was especially interested to hear Putin say that, while Russia will need to almost completely rearm and re-equip its armed forces over the next decade (implying that similar attempts over recent years have been less than successful), “I am absolutely convinced the modern weaponry for our army and navy can and must be supplied by the Russian defence industry. Obviously, certain technology and weapons types can, and probably should be purchased abroad. But we need to understand that nobody will sell us the most advanced and latest generation technology.”
As regular readers will know, since we set up shop almost a year ago, Democratist has considered Russia’s increasing national inability in the sphere of (especially military) technological innovation as one of the key motivating factors behind the Russia 2020 ”modernization” drive. While superficially novel, this desire for modernization reflects a historical preoccupation with the importance of military competition against comparatively advanced western nations, that runs throughout modern Russian and Soviet history at least as far back as Peter the Great, and which has provided the impetus for various spurts of attempted technological modernization.
However, elite and popular resistance to liberalisation combined with the expectation (and now realization) of a rise in hydrocarbon prices over the last few years have meant that genuine and deep systemic economic reform was always going to be something of a non-starter: From our perspective, the Medvedev liberalisation project always had more to do with encouraging (mostly state-partnered) foreign investment than the introduction of meaningful, economy-wide reform.
Subsequently we have argued that, in the general absence of a culture of innovation from within the domestic Russian public or private sectors, or from foreign investors, and with a continuing “brain-drain,” as many of Russia’s most talented young people leave to pursue careers abroad, the State would seek the innovation it has historically seen as essential in order for it to remain militarily competitive, through an enhanced reliance on espionage. This seems set to remain the case despite increased arms sales to Russia by European firms because, as Putin has effectively admitted the West remains fundamentally unwilling to sell the Russians their cleverer toys – lest they eventually find themselves on the wrong end of them.
However, even if (what is probably a much weakened) SVR or FSB still manage to come up with the goods in terms of stolen intellectual property, Democratist remains far from convinced by the Prime Minister’s claims that the (still largely Soviet-era, and extraordinarily corrupt) Russian defence sector will be able to supply the armed forces with modern weaponry in the numbers required any time soon.
In short, our prediction is that, without a sharp change of tack, the next decade will see a the technological gap between the Russian armed forces and those of the West widen, despite these proposed investments.