President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that Russia's centrally planned version of Silicon Valley would be built in the Moscow region town of Skolkovo, eschewing existing technoparks and instead building a new supermodern technology town from scratch. "I made the decision — we will build this center where we have already laid the groundwork for doing it quickly. Speed matters, so we will build it in Skolkovo," Medvedev said at a meeting with students who had received a presidential scholarship. The new town will have five "presidential" priorities for modernization: energy, IT, telecommunications, biotechnology and nuclear technology, Medvedev said.
Kremlin aide Arkady Dvorkovich had previously named Skolkovo as one of five possible locations for the center, and media reports had suggested that the town was a favorite. Other potential sites discussed with Medvedev were Tomsk, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, Obninsk and Dubna, Dvorkovich said. The idea to create the center was Medvedev's, the president's first deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, told Vedomosti last month. Medvedev hopes to create a town for young, creative scientists and businessmen, but without luxury apartments "where people walk their Rottweilers and drive Hummers," Surkov said.
The development of the project will be spearheaded by Rusnano chief Anatoly Chubais, and work on the project could begin as early as this year, Surkov said, adding that the project would be financed in part by dipping into the government's 10 billion ruble ($340 million) modernization and innovation budget. The town of Skolkovo, located just west of the Moscow Ring Road, hosts the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, a premier business school founded by a coterie of Russian businesspeople and high-placed government officials. The area has long been considered a prestigious area: Formerly home to politburo officials, billionaire Roman Abramovich, who donated land for the business school, built a villa, golf club and horse stables in the neighborhood, Life.ru reported in 2008.
The decision came as a surprise for authorities in the Odintsovo district, where Skolkovo is located, a spokesperson for the Odintsovo administration said. The spokesperson added that local authorities had not yet been informed of the details of the project or the possible location of the scientific center. This is not the first time the government has tried to create a high-tech center for innovation to attract engineers and scientists. Four special economic zones in St. Petersburg, Tomsk, Dubna and Zelenograd have all been called new centers for research and development in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, nuclear technology and telecommunications.
Critics have said building a new facility from scratch is a waste of resources, as many of the technology centers already have all the necessary infrastructure in place and are currently underused or not utilized at all. A spokesman for the presidential administration could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Economic Development Ministry, which has partial oversight over special economic zones, would not comment on the ministry's involvement in the project.
Author: Maria Antonova