Putin Meets Russia's Computer Industry Elite

20 Apr 2001
Business News

On April 13, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with representatives of Russia's major information technology companies in the Kremlin, with each of the ten directors presenting a report on specific segments of the industry. In particular, Kaspersky Lab CEO, Natalya Kaspersky, represented the area of computer security.

In today's world, information technology (IT) is becoming a definitive factor in the development of each segment of government, not only in the areas of operation and security, accounting and bookkeeping, and production resources, but also in the overall prosperity of a country. In the coming years, with the advent of effective state policies, IT could bring Russia 20 billion US dollars per year.

Unfortunately, IT development in Russia at this point does not occupy a basic enough level for Russia's leaders. Coupled with this is the prerequisite of providing a leading high-tech position on the world market, and also at the same time, a high level of technical training, an excellent organized high-tech production base, and the presence of successful and experienced Russian companies advancing the end product for sale outside the country. It is because of this that the main goal of the meeting was to discuss the urgent needs inhibiting the dynamic growth and development in the area of Russian IT.

"From my perspective,- commented Natalya Kaspersky, "the value of the meeting was that it provided Russia's computer industry the opportunity to speak directly with the president in order to find an effective solution to the existing problems."

The Kremlin meeting lasted two and a half hours, and was conducted in a very business-like manner. Putin, for his part, listened to the representatives, occasionally asking specific questions or making comments, and demonstrated a firm grasp of the issues surrounding information technology.

Ms. Kaspersky outlined her vision of the problems to Putin, and offered a course of action that would be important to undertake in order to improve the current situation.

"As a provider of anti-virus programs for end-users, we are interested foremost in two questions: the existing legislative restrictions in the area of cryptographic product development and the obstacles inhibiting product and technology export," said Ms. Kaspersky

The first problem is the series of daunting obstacles to overcome on the road to the development of cryptographic systems, especially licensing, the policy of isolation and limitations on end-product exports. All in all, this makes it practically impossible for Kaspersky Lab to diversify both on the domestic market and international market, which is dominated by foreign companies, particularly American.

"The situation in the area of regulating information security in Russia is very similar to the situation that existed in the US at the beginning of the 1980s. The US needed fifteen years to understand that given the current conditions, total control over a user's computer defense system is not only impossible, but could prove harmful in the end. It is sensible not to repeat the mistakes of others, rather it would be pertinent to take advantage of others' experience and correct the government's policies in this area," commented Ms. Kaspersky.

Another problem is the strict currency controls in Russia that hinder the development of Russian IT companies geared towards product export. This interferes with Russian producers making it onto the international market and promoting their products, thus creating even more obstacles to making a profit.

On the other hand, the intensive introduction of Russian IT on the world market allows for the investing of earnings in high-tech development in Russia. Similar resources, such as capital investment sources, are profitable and affect the country's balance of payment positively. Especially important are the creation of analogous channels of expansion and resource investment for small- and mid-sized Russian businesses that form the base of the Russian IT industry and have limited access to capital markets.

Putin listened attentively to Ms. Kaspersky's suggestions regarding the necessity of companies receiving Russian Central Bank capital licensing. The president even noted that this question is being considered, but so far it has met serious opposition from several government bodies.

Amongst the other interesting topics discussed during the meeting were the issues of software piracy (including even the use of such software within certain areas of the government), the creation of a "high-tech government," computerization of the country and intellectual property rights.

No final decisions were reached during the meeting, however, it is clear that Putin sees IT development as a strong possibility for Russia - if not, the meeting probably never would have taken place.

"I assess the meeting as being positive. It is difficult to presume that it will bring about any quick solutions for Russia, but what's important here is something else - discussions between the government and Russian IT companies have begun, giving us reason to be optimistic about the government's future attitude and relationship toward the Russian computer industry. This, in perspective, could place Russia amongst the world leaders in the area of high-tech production," stated Ms. Kaspersky.