Calling his host “a great visionary,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger heaped praise Monday on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and urged new economic partnerships with Soviet, er, Russian, businessmen during a visit to a western suburb of Moscow that is slated to become a Silicon Valley-style innovation hub.
With 23 potential American investors in tow, Schwarzenegger is visiting Moscow at the invitation of Medvedev, who toured the United States in June. Medvedev, in a black leather jacket, drove the gray-suited Schwarzenegger to the largely barren site in a rare Soviet-era ivory-colored Chaika sedan.
Medvedev “has very clear visions where Russia should go and how to diversify its economy,” Schwarzenegger said in remarks at a round-table meeting with Russian venture businessmen, held in the only building on the planned industrial complex.
The governor then drew chuckles as he looked away from his notes and proceeded to say that he hopes “that our business leaders are going to find great partnerships with the Soviet counterparts.”
After the laughter subsided, Schwarzenegger explained that he had been to Russia many times but that those trips were back in the days when Moscow was still the capital of the Soviet Union.
Skolkovo Innovation Center is a pet project of Medvedev, whose government intends to spend $5.6 billion over the next few years to help stimulate technological breakthroughs in space, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and other fields.
“We count very much that our cooperation will yield good fruits,” the president said at the round-table.
But not all here are as optimistic about the future, or about a Western role in stimulating high-tech commerce, despite the presence of executives from such giants as Google and Intel. Indeed, some observers predicted that nothing would come of the visit, which they consider a public relations gimmick to promote the project in Russia.
“I can understand that the Kremlin needs Schwarzenegger to attach weight and beauty to this project,” said Irina Yasina, a senior researcher at the Institute of Transition Period Economy, in an interview with The Times. “I don’t understand why Schwarzenegger wants to take part in it unless he regards it just as an exotic excursion he might as well enjoy.”
The issue of technological innovation is of crucial importance to Medvedev and his hold on power and one in which he stands out from his mentor-turned-rival, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev’s modernization effort is seen by many analysts as his likely ticket to another term in office.
His plan would turn Russia from a raw-materials supplier of the West into a technological superpower that could export far more sophisticated products than gas and oil. And a former Hollywood action hero might come in handy to promote his ideas.
The charismatic Putin, on the other hand, has a simpler plan that can be boiled down to one short slogan: Make me president and you won’t be sorry. In essence, Putin himself is the action hero.
Putin was president for eight years and, barred from serving a third consecutive term, picked Medvedev as his successor. Some think he may again seek the office in 2012.
Many here love Putin for such blunt promises as the one in 1999 “to flush terrorists down the toilet,” as well as for throwing the biggest of the Russian oligarchs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky in prison, slashing income taxes, and publicly embracing victims of this summer’s wildfires. He flies planes, drives Russian cars to promote the auto industry, rides with bikers to be closer to the people. He doesn’t need a plan. His plan is himself.
In the sessions Monday, Schwarzenegger appeared to have an affinity for the Medvedev model.
“One thing I know for sure,” he told reporters after the round-table. “To create a Silicon Valley here in Moscow is much, much, much better than not creating one.”
Medvedev returned the love.
His regret, he said with a smile, is that he cannot name Schwarzenegger to the vacant position of mayor of Moscow, because the governor does not have Russian citizenship.