Hot Russia Spy Luring Space Investors, Companies to Russia’s Silicon Valley Clone

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Russian spy turned aerospace recruiter Anna Chapman.

The Observer has an update on Skolkovo, the Russian government’s attempt to replicate America’s Silicon Valley outside of Moscow:

“We have plans to further explore the moon and the planets,” said a pamphlet promoting Skolkovo’s space centre, one of five planned “clusters”, alongside IT, biomedical science, energy efficiency and nuclear technology.

Investors are being promised corporate and personal tax breaks – and the opportunity of meeting Anna Chapman, the former spy and underwear model, who has been given the task of attracting young talent to Skolkovo.

Sergey Zhukov, a cosmonaut who supervised astrophysics and radiobiology research aboard the Mir space station and now heads the space cluster, said it “will not only allow thousands of people to implement their dreams of a spaceflight. It will also contribute to accelerate mankind’s technological development.”

Space is a key focus for Skolkovo, which is aiming to turn Russian ideas and scientific achievements into cash. While Russia is responsible for 40% of global space launches, it is far behind Nasa in its ability to generate money. Output per Russian space industry employee is currently worth $14,800 (£9,348) per year, less than 33 times that in the US.

The centre, which has brought Sir Richard Branson on board, plans to launch a string of new satellites and a “new generation of rocket carriers that ensure low-cost space transportation”.

Skolkovo’s website has a description of the space cluster’s focus:

Space Technology and Telecommunications Cluster provides search, involvement and selection of potential subjects of innovative process in the field of spacecraft development and target operation and diversification of rocket-and-space industry potential. It supports their cooperation and provides environment for full cycle innovative process implementation. The Cluster residents implement projects in space technologies and telecommunications covering both Space for Earth (space applications) and Earth for Space (development of aerospace technology and space industry diversification) domains.

The Cluster plans an active fruitful communications with Russians research and technology community as well as with our colleagues overseas.

Branson’s involvement in Skolkovo is not entirely clear. Last November, Branson met with Skolkovo Foundation President Viktor Vekselberg during an event in The Hague sponsored by the International Space Technology Association (ISTA).  Media reports indicate the two agreed to form a partnership between Virgin and Skolkovo to develop commercial cosmonautics, but no specifics were given.

The Observer article discusses why people should be skeptical of Skolkovo given the level of corruption and theft in Russia.  It’s difficult to do research and development in a country if you are afraid your intellectual property or the company itself will be appropriated.

The other problem is that Silicon Valley’s success results from its bottom up approach to innovation whereas Russia’s approach is top-down. It makes you wonder  President Dmitry Medvedev — who has championed Skolkovo — fully understands that difference.

Read the full story.