Why Dmitry Medvedev wants a Russian Silicon Valley

On a Silicon Valley tour, he answered tough questions from both Russians and Americans.

The Russian president has been touring California's Silicon Valley for the last two days, meeting with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Russian immigrants, and the heads of Twitter, Cisco and Apple, among others.

His government is spending the equivalent of millions of dollars to try to build a high-tech center outside of Moscow, called Skolkovo, that will shake up Russia's bureaucracy and give educated Russians, of which there are many, the opportunity to innovate and start companies the way Americans do.

"In a very good way, I'm sort of jealous of you all," he told a group of students and faculty at Stanford this afternoon, "because you have the opportunity to learn, teach, make money, do what you love and see your work building..."

Cisco, which already invests in Russia, today committed $1 billion over the next decade to build up Skolkovo and other parts of Russia's technology infrastructure, as Smart Planet noted earlier. The Russian government is offering incentives to foreign companies to invest in Skolkovo and has vowed, according to this Russia Today account, that the project will be "corruption-free."

But CBS News points out that Medvedev faces opposition to Skolkovo inside his country, and Medvedev acknowledged as much when a Russian in the Stanford audience asked him how specifically he planned to protect Russians who want to start companies from criminal activity, bad attitudes ("crazy Russians with crazy startups") and other obstacles.

"Of course we have plans," Medvedev said. "In Russia, people hope the government will do something,,,but we must do it correctly. Russia has its own attitudes and says the task of the government is to create startup conditions, but that's a very complicated point. Money can't create it. We have money, but we don't have Silicon Valley. It has to be money in the right hands, with the correct rules [he cited special laws, tax regimes, registration and control for Skolkovo]. If performed correctly, I'm sure the project will be a success, but everything depends on people and finally on you -- if you're ready to help."

Skolkovo and Silicon Valley, he added later, "are a state of mind, a state of freedom, that can't be imposed by laws or decrees. It's hard, but I'm sure we'll be able to succeed."

Despite Russian opposition, though, the Russian media coverage that I saw of Medvedev's tour is admiring. Here's a report from Russia Today that describes Medvedev as "a high-tech savvy person, the first Russian person to have his own blog," talking at Stanford to "representatives of the business and academic elite" and rumored to be getting a new iPhone 4G from Steve Jobs.

Medvedev also got his first Twitter account today -- @KremlinRussia. It's in Russian. But here's his fake Twitter account -- @MrMedvedev. Tomorrow the real President Medvedev will be in Washington, D.C., to meet with President Obama.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com