Maney: Putin mauls Russian tech startups

29 Aug

Vladimir Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin took part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in May. The SPIEF is an annual international conference dedicated to economic and business issues.

by J Jennings Moss –

The UpTake: The United States and China both have vibrant and robust tech sectors, but not Russia. A big reason we haven’t seen much home-grown innovation there, reports Newsweek’s Kevin Maney, is because of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Amid all the reports about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine today, thispiece by Kevin Maney in Newsweek caught my eye because it rightly pointed out another casualty of Vladimir Putin‘s distorted view — Russian tech startups.

Maney, a veteran of the tech news scene who once wrote a column for a previous version of this site, penned his piece before today’s military reports. That only makes his conclusions about the Russian leader all the more painful to read.

“This is Vladimir Putin’s hidden crime: Just as Russia’s startup culture had a hope of getting legs, Putin’s actions in Ukraine have helped knock it back down. Since economic power increasingly flows to nations that innovate around software and data, Putin is basically exiling Russia to the economic backwaters of the next decade or two,” Maney writes.

Maney lays out a fascinating history of the Russian tech scene, starting with this headshaking anecdote provided by Russian-based investor Dennis Adamovich who said the last successful Russian tech export was the game Tetris — in 1984.

The entire Newsweek piece is well worth a read, especially as he talks about the glimpses of real promise offered by some Russian entrepreneurs and startups like Yandex and Qiwi. But then, in comes Putin:

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in March and got nailed by international sanctions, Western investors have wanted to get involved in Russia about as much as the Scarecrow wants to date the Wicked Witch of the West. Add that to Putin-sanctioned raids on Russian businesses, government meddling, anti-blogging laws and word of a coming firewall around Russia, and the tech picture gets bleak.

Two years ago, we wrote about a Russian high-tech incubator and business center near Russia’s capital. That facility, named after its key sponsor the Skolkovo Foundation, hasn’t gotten much attention in the Western press lately though its website does show off some of the same kind entrepreneurial spirit you find in other cities all over the world. Check it out here.

To see some of Kevin Maney’s reporting for Upstart Business Journal’s previous life as Condé Nast Portfolio, click here.


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