Russia Asks Schwarzenegger to Help in a Tough Task (Skolkovo)

By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
Published: October 11, 2010

SKOLKOVO, Russia — Perhaps frustrated by what at times can seem like his own one-man effort to bring his unwieldy country into the 21st century, President Dmitri A. Medvedev on Monday turned to a seasoned fighter of government bureaucracy and other dark forces.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, terminator, governor and now, it seems, innovator, was here in this near suburb of Moscow with a delegation of entrepreneurial heavyweights from Silicon Valley, vowing to do what he could to help pump up Mr. Medvedev’s efforts to modernize Russia.

Mr. Medvedev, an avid blogger, who sent Mr. Schwarzenegger greetings via Twitter when he arrived in Moscow on Sunday, has spoken often about the need to fight corruption, lessen government interference in business and allow greater political competition. This, he has said, will help improve Russia’s business climate, though the project has been long on eloquent speeches and rather short on action, so far.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, the California governor who, of course, is also known for action films like “The Terminator,” joined by executives from Google and other technology companies, called Russia a “gold mine” for foreign investors and praised the Russian president as “a great visionary” and an “action president,” who is on the road to transforming his country — an effort that, of course, might profit from a little American know-how.

“We want to do what we can as Californians and as Americans because it is in our interest to make Russia successful,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said. “We don’t see Russia as an enemy. We see Russia as our friend.”

The two men have met before, when Mr. Schwarzenegger was host to Mr. Medvedev on a tour of Silicon Valley this summer.

On Monday, Mr. Schwarzenegger visited the Moscow School of Management, Skolkovo, an experimental business school devised in part by Mr. Medvedev and backed by Russia’s business and political elite. Leaders here hope Skolkovo, which held its first graduation ceremonies last month, will eventually become a Russian version of California’s Silicon Valley. Billions of dollars have been invested in the business school’s futuristic campus, which looks like several haphazardly placed Tetris blocks looming eerily among the bleak Soviet-era apartments just outside Moscow.

Skolkovo has been criticized as a vanity project of the president that is backed by little substance. When Mr. Schwarzenegger apparently strayed from the script at one point during a round-table discussion, asking Skolkovo’s powerful backers seated in the room for their ideas, an uncomfortable silence followed until Mr. Medvedev prodded a few muddled sentences out of them.

Real modernization, critics say, will come when the government loosens its grip on the country’s key economic levers while battling corruption and diminishing bureaucracy.

Embarrassingly, similar criticism of Skolkovo and Mr. Medvedev’s modernization drive was recently leveled in the Russian news media by Andre Geim, a Russian-born scientist who fled Russia’s crumbling scientific establishment for the West after the Soviet collapse, and this year won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work at the University of Manchester in England.

Mr. Medvedev acknowledged the critics, but pointed to the country’s highly educated population and tremendous resource wealth as the basis for future improvements to be achieved in part with the aid of Silicon Valley.

“We are extremely interested in your colossal experience,” he told Mr. Schwarzenegger’s delegation. “We are not ashamed to learn and to admit that, unfortunately, we are still behind on many issues. But we expect that our cooperation will bear fruit.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 12, 2010, on page A8 of the New York edition.
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