#8 - JRL 7019
January 15, 2003
HERMAN GREF PROMOTES THE SILICON VALLEY MODEL
Herman Gref has proposed a plan to develop research towns
Author: Andrei Reut, Anastasia Zhokhova
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
PRESIDENT PUTIN HAS CONSULTED WITH ACADEMICS ON HOW TO SAVE RUSSIA'S RESEARCH TOWNS. SCIENTISTS ASKED HIM TO RETURN THEIR PRIVILEGES TO THEM AND GIVE THEM MORE MONEY FROM THE BUDGET. HOWEVER, THE PRESIDENT MADE A DIFFERENT DECISION.
President Vladimir Putin has consulted with academics on how to save Russia's research towns. Scientists asked him to return them privileges to them and give them more state funding. However, Putin made a different decision. Economic Development Minister Herman Gref has suggested that four high-tech science zones should be set up in Russia: in the Far East, Siberia, the Northwest, and in the Central part of Russia. These zones will follow the Silicon Valley model, and science-intensive enterprises will have privileged status in these zones.
Currently, only three towns in the Moscow region have the official status of research towns: Korolev, Dubna, and Obninsk. However, about 70 locations across Russia claim this status. Research towns receive state funding, though not much of it. According to the law on research towns, they have to demonstrate their scientific resources over many years, with a lot of red tape involved in the process.
The scientists who came to the Kremlin yesterday proposed a very simple method of solving the problem. According to them, it is necessary for the president himself to declare a town to be a research town, without any further inquiries; and after that, the government should come up with a program for its development over the next five years. The program should certainly be funded from the budget.
The main initiator of this idea was Academician Nikolai Dobretsov. Other ideas of his are also noted for their simplicity. For instance, he has suggested that "an innovation support fund" should be set up in every research town. The fund will get money from the budget and spend it on high-tech enterprises. Besides, Dobretsov suggested that the status of free economic zones should be returned to these closed administrative-territorial entities. He noted that the research town in Novosibirsk alone could manufacture products worth up to $1 billion a year.
However, Putin did not approve the simple and understandable ideas of scientists. Instead, he approved some proposals from Economic Development Minister Herman Gref.
According to Academician Yevgeny Velikhov, the Economic Development Ministry has presented a new draft law on special economic zones and research towns. These zones will not have the usual tax privileges, which led to large-scale capital flight from the closed administrative-territorial entities a few years ago. From now on, only conditions for high-tech manufacturing will be provided in special economic zones. Velikhov considers that this draft law is "well- informed and coordinated" and will therefore attract investors.
Gref has suggested that four high-tech research zones should be set up in Russia: in the Far East, Siberia, the Northwest, and in the Central part of Russia. It will be necessary to invest from $1 million to $5 million per square kilometer in each of them. Tax breaks will make it possible to attract the money needed. Gref learnt of this model during his excursions in technical parks of China. The famous Silicon Valley in the US was set up by an analogous model. Foundation of technical parks is based on the state support of investments in high-tech projects on a certain territory.
This model has worked perfectly well in many countries. However, in Russia all analogous attempts led to a situation where "scientists" with business skills developed enormous businesses having nothing to do with science at the state's expense. Gref is sure that this situation will not be repeated. However, he has not mentioned any specific mechanisms, and the Economic Development Ministry has refused to comment on this issue.
Minister for Industry and Science Ilya Klebanov has supported Gref's ideas. He has said that the government will consider the issue of foundation of the national innovation system in three months.
Presidential Envoy for the Siberian Federal District Leonid Drachevsky noted in this connection that it is better to provide research towns with tax privileges without any complications. Putin's response to this unexpected proposal was that privileges will not do any good. Thus, it is clear that Gref's ideas appeal to the president more.
(Translated by Kirill Frolov)