In Science and Technology, International Cooperation Is Important
The problem of ensuring Russia’s technological security has come to the fore. Capital Ideas talked with Doctor of Economic Sciences Igor Nikolaev, Chief Researcher of the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, about the methods and prospects for its solution.
The need to ensure Russia’s technological security began to be discussed relatively recently. Previously, more was heard about import substitution. Are they synonymous?
These are close concepts, but still not synonymous. Import substitution is when, instead of imported goods, services, technologies and other things, we begin to produce our own similar goods, provide services, etc. To ensure technological security, it is not necessary for the technology to be replaced by a similar domestic one. If, for example, you have found fundamentally new technological solutions, not necessarily similar to what you used to import – then the problems will be solved, although formal import substitution did not take place. In general, the concept of technological security is broader than import substitution, if we mean in the sphere of technology.
What threats pose the greatest danger to Russia’s technological sovereignty – internal or external?
The problem is that both internal and external threats are dangerous to Russia’s technological sovereignty. Which threats have a greater impact, and which to a lesser extent, is difficult to assess – and I don’t think we need to do that. The main thing is to imagine what exactly the threats are. With external threats, everything is more or less clear: unprecedented strict sanctions on the export of advanced technologies to Russia, which of course negatively affect the level of technological development of the country.
Internal threats are not so obvious – but they are there, and they are significant. The Russian economy has an insufficient level of competition. The problem has now become much more serious for a variety of reasons. The departure of the largest foreign companies reduces the level of development of competition. The forced opacity of the public procurement sphere, and the expansion of opportunities for their fulfillment by a single supplier, also result in a decrease in competition. It is clear why such decisions are made, but the fact remains that this has a negative affect on competition. There is no competition – so there is no incentive to generate new technological solutions.
Which areas and industries should be given priority to be developed?
In the context of severe external restrictions on the Russian economy, it is necessary to pay attention to industries that continue to have significant export potential. There are such industries: agricultural production, the food industry, production of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, mineral fertilizers, etc. The EU said in the summer that the sanctions do not apply to agricultural products and mineral fertilizers. The Russian economy was critically dependent on energy exports. Now there are problems with this, and they are likely to grow. So we need to think about what can replace the export of oil, gas, and coal in significant volumes. Of course, it is necessary not only to think, but also to develop priority industries on a new technological basis.
What role does R&D play in ensuring technological sovereignty? Are there sufficient scientific personnel in Russia to carry out this activity?
R&D is an absolutely necessary stage in the process of ensuring technological sovereignty. This is simple – if there are technological sanctions, then there are basically two ways to solve the problem: either you somehow import the necessary technologies, or you invent them yourself. But there are well-known problems with the import of technology. First, there are the corresponding sanctions. Secondly, this is not exactly consumer goods, so one cannot count on parallel imports here. So you need to invent, and for this you need to conduct your own R&D. There are still scientific personnel in Russia, although here the trend is quite alarming: the number of personnel in Russia engaged in research and development has decreased, according to Rosstat, from 887.7 thousand people in 2000 to 662.7 thousand people in 2021.
Does the state have the financial capacity for large-scale transformations?
I am afraid that in the current difficult economic conditions, the state does not have the financial capabilities to carry out large-scale transformations. However, we should give credit – expenditures from the federal budget on civil science have grown very significantly over the past two decades: from 17.4 billion rubles in 2000 to 626.6 billion in 2021. True, if we take inflation into account, then the growth will not be so impressive, but it will still be quite large. Nevertheless, despite such an increase in expenditures, if we take their volume in relation to GDP, this figure in 2021 was only 0.48%; that’s not much.
Recently, there have been calls to adopt a doctrine of technological security for Russia. Will this not lead to the country closing in on itself, isolating itself from the rest of the world, and blocking its own access to innovations?
Well, it depends on what you write in this doctrine. And in general, regardless of any doctrine – it is clear that the country should not withdraw into itself, fence itself off from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, because of unprecedented external limitations, this is already happening. In such a situation, you should not fence yourself off, believing that “I am smarter than you.” In science and technology, more than any other sphere, international cooperation and knowledge exchange are crucial. This, if you will, is the peculiarity of the process of birth and practical application of new knowledge. We shouldn’t forget that.