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Brain drain and Silicon Valley (interview to TASS)

February 27, 2020

The fifth part of Vladimir Putin's interview to TASS News Agency has been published.

The 20 Questions with Vladimir Putin project is an interview with the President of Russia on the most topical subjects of social and political life in Russia and the world. Total recording time is 3.5 hours.

Andrei Vandenko: Why aren’t you asking me about what I am holding in my hands?

Vladimir Putin: Well, it is an iPad, I assume.

Andrei Vandenko: Oh! We decided to check the most popular search queries for Putin.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

Andrei Vandenko: What topics do you think our public is interested in?

Vladimir Putin: I do not know.

Andrei Vandenko: Take a look.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

Andrei Vandenko: We can read it out loud.

Vladimir Putin: Ok. ”Putin biography“, ”Putin Instagram“, ”Putin Georgia“, ”Putin news conference 2019“, ”Putin young“, ”Putin Poland“, ”Putin family and friends“, ”Putin age“, ”Putin fired generals today“, ”Putin Nord Stream“, ”Putin Zelensky“, ”Putin lookalike proof“.

Andrei Vandenko: I like the last one – “Putin lookalike proof“. Are you the real Putin?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Andrei Vandenko: Do you have a double?

Vladimir Putin: No.

Andrei Vandenko: Never had one?

Vladimir Putin: No.

Andrei Vandenko: Has that topic ever popped up?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Andrei Vandenko: And?

Vladimir Putin: I discarded the idea of any doubles. This was during the toughest time of our war against terrorism.

Andrei Vandenko: At the beginning of the 2000s?

Vladimir Putin: Yes.

Andrei Vandenko: So that a double would go to places where it was dangerous…

Vladimir Putin: Well, he would go there, be seen…

Andrei Vandenko: So no double?

Vladimir Putin: No.

Andrei Vandenko: All right. Let us switch to another topic. Digitalization and artificial intelligence. Why is everybody dreaming of going to Silicon Valley instead of Skolkovo?

Vladimir Putin: Firstly, not everybody. The brain drain is on the decline. And in general …

Andrei Vandenko: I can tell you what it is like.

Vladimir Putin: Ok, I do not doubt that it still exists. Because people are like fish. Fish like the bottom deeper and flatter, man also looks for what is better, as a well-known saying goes.

Andrei Vandenko: What about the state?

Vladimir Putin: I will tell you about the state, too. But a skilled workforce, or let us put it differently – top-notch professionals, look for better places to employ their knowledge, capabilities, and skills. Wherever the pay is better, that is where they go. It’s as simple as that. So, the state should create conditions to attract top-ranked professionals. There are two ways of doing this.

Andrei Vandenko: Ok…

Vladimir Putin: Either we isolate ourselves the way it was done in…

Andrei Vandenko: You mean keep them from leaving?

Vladimir Putin: Grab hold of them and don’t let them out. Saddle them with some extra liabilities. For instance, someone who’s received a higher education cannot leave the country, that individual will have to work here, must either do this or that or reimburse for the cost of his tuition. And so on and so forth. This is what has been proposed for the healthcare sector. Or a labour market…

Andrei Vandenko: For oneself?

Vladimir Putin: In general, if a person studied at the government's expense, he has to either stay here and work or refund the tuition costs. This is one of the ideas.

Andrei Vandenko: And what do you think about it?

Vladimir Putin: By and large, this is a possible option. It is possible. If a person studies…

Andrei Vandenko: Sort of serfdom.

Vladimir Putin: Why? If you pay for your tuition yourself, you have the right to go anywhere and work wherever you please. But if you study at the government's expense, especially if your region pays for your tuition hoping that you’ll come back…

Andrei Vandenko: I agree.

Vladimir Putin: Then it is quite fair. If you do not want to work there or if you are unable to comply with the terms of the contract, then you are expected to refund the tuition costs. That’s quite fair.

The other option is to create conditions, to pay better. As you know, it just seems easy. Civil aviation began to pay decent salaries because it needed foreign experts, and this resulted in a labour market imbalance. It affected military pilots who eagerly began to leave the armed forces, flocking to work as co-pilots on civilian airlines. The same is happening here.

So, we should think over this matter. There is a need to raise salaries, but how do we do this? One option is through grants. We have just developed a vast system of grants. It encompasses not only the IT segment, but also the high-tech industry in general. And it works well.

I guess you have some statistics ready on how many people are leaving. But take a look at how many people are coming in. There is an influx now.

Andrei Vandenko: The number of people leaving every year is exactly the same as the number of those employed at

Vladimir Putin: Maybe. But keeps making progress as well. You see? Yandex is thriving too.

Andrei Vandenko: So it is an annual rotation…

Vladimir Putin: Listen, Yandex is developing as well. They did not exist in the past, but now they do. And they compete well with major global companies, including Google. This proves there is progress.

It is impossible to keep them all here. Or maybe, we should not train as many people. It is a lose-lose situation. There are also people who return. And their number is not as meagre as you may think. I met them, the recipients of the so-called megagrants and ordinary grants. They are very interesting people, with good professional experience both in our country and abroad.

Many of them have a strong desire to return. And we are bringing many of them back, we are creating conditions for them and setting up laboratories, along with offering them special salary packages. You know what I found quite interesting and what made me happy? Not only do they want to work themselves, but they also want to bring on board our young people and postgraduates, and form research, development and production groups with them. And they are doing rather well. They are making progress in different areas: genetics, biology, digital technologies, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

Andrei Vandenko: In other words, it is not something like ‘just let them leave, and another generation will arise’.

Vladimir Putin: No, nothing like that. That is not our approach. But it is a long and complicated process.

Andrei Vandenko: And how do you generally feel about the innovations of the last 20 years, I mean electric cars, iPhones, smartphones, and the like.

Vladimir Putin: Technological progress cannot be stopped, nor should it be. We have no plans to do it.

Andrei Vandenko: Do you feel comfortable with that? Do you use it?

Vladimir Putin: I feel comfortable because I do not use any of these devices. I simply have other opportunities.

Andrei Vandenko: I saw you calling my namesake, the boy who was skiing at the Krasnaya Polyana resort at your invitation. You were using a smartphone.

Vladimir Putin: Well, indeed, I do call…

Andrei Vandenko: I did not catch the model. You were holding it in a way…

Vladimir Putin: Your friend Peskov gave it to me so that I could make a call. In all other situations, it is much easier for me to use a dedicated secure line to be connected to any number.

February 27, 2020