The Russian Files II

I recently made a visit in Moscow with the International Trades Committee of the European Parliament to investigate the views of various Russian stakeholders on the Russian World Trade Organisation accession. We were able to meet members of the Duma, the Russian parliament. That was interesting.

The European deputies all were not able to understand how the Russians could be skeptical of the WTO. They were very concerned with live-stock imports and gas. The Russians responded that in Europe we subsidize our agricultural sector with 40% of our total budget, in Russia the equivalent subsidy level is only 2%. There can be no fair competition between two such completely different approaches of subsidies, they said. Apparently one of the more problematic aspects for Russia with the WTO accession is also the TRIPs implementations needed. We didn't detail on this during our meetings, but I want to remember the TRIPs negotiations with Russia having been exceptionally hard a few years ago.

I met also, outside of the delegation, with Mr Ilya Ponomarev, a social-democrat deputy of the DUMA who is in the opposition and has also made himself known as an opponent to Putin. He said that he had never had as many problems collaborating with Medvedev and that the dividing line for him always was whether or not the political leader of Russia was honest with their intentions or not.

The open source implementations in Russia are going forward. Public procurement for proprietary software is no longer allowed since public money must go into public things. However, the procurement capacity to foster a domestic industry doesn't quite exist in Russia. The political climate changes fast, budgets change, and there is some level of arbitrariness in the system which makes it difficult to engage in longer-term developing projects. Public servants are still allowed, basically, to bring their own copies of proprietary software to work if they desperately want to, but they cannot use public financial resources to achieve this. This creates security problems, since it is difficult to make a security strategy for institutions where you can basically not be sure what software is being run or how.

Nevertheless, there are very successful research and technical parks in Novosibirsk, Yakutsk(!) and Tartarstan. The current minister of finance is very young (30 years old) and made his political career on the tangible achievement of very well-developed eGovernment services in Tartarstan (healthcare, applying for passport, etc, everything *except* e-voting).

There were no mentions of special educational efforts in place to help the public sector with the software switch. In schools, Russian children get to learn at least both platforms (Windows and open source) so as to not become uncompetitive, but normally open source softwares are used.


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