President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Russia must move fast to create a home for innovative companies in high-tech industries, pushing a project he hopes can be a showcase of his presidency.
Medvedev urged bureaucrats and business leaders not to waste time in developing a major business park outside Moscow that would provide tax breaks and other state support to companies in a bid to wean Russia away from reliance on energy exports.
The process should not be stretched for years. It is not preparations for 2014 Olympics, everything should be fast and determined, Medvedev said. We want this project to be full of life, not still-born.
Medvedev's reference to the Olympics linked his pet project with one of the most ambitious undertakings of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who has staked his reputation on the success of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Medvedev, struggling to emerge from Putin's shadow, has pitched Russia's answer to Silicon Valley as a crucial part of his effort to modernize the economy of a country that coasted on oil revenues during Putin's presidency.
His remarks came as speculation mounts over how Russia's ruling tandem will handle a 2012 presidential vote -- whether Putin will seek to return to the Kremlin, support a second term for his protege or look for another option.
Putin provided crucial support for Russia's bid for the Olympics and is overseeing construction in Sochi, a Black Sea resort where most venues must be built from scratch.
Russian officials in charge of Olympic preparations complain that even with the huge powers at hand they are still facing red tape and corruption. Critics say Medvedev's high-tech city project will face the same hurdles.
Both Putin and Medvedev have indicated they could run in 2012, but have been vague about their plans. Their statements are scrutinized for signs of a rivalry real enough to shake the political stability cherished by both leaders ahead of the vote.
Medvedev owes his position to the popular Putin, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third straight term in 2008 and steered Medvedev into the presidency instead.
Medvedev has often said the two work well together but has occasionally made remarks widely interpreted by political observers as veiled digs at Putin.
Medvedev appointed Viktor Vekselberg, an energy and metals magnate who owns a stake in leading Swiss technology firm Oerlikon, to oversee the high-tech project at a site west of Moscow which already hosts a business school.
Medvedev said that the world's largest chip maker Intel Corp's Chairman Craig Barrett will co-chair the hub's supervisory council while Nobel-prize winner biochemist Roger Kornberg will co-chair the scientific council.
The technology hub aims to give state backing to companies to help them develop selected innovative products in five priority sectors: energy, IT, telecommunications, biotech, and nuclear technologies.
The city will live under its own laws and police, and its companies will enjoy tax breaks for the first 10 years.
(Writing by Gleb Bryanski and Steve Gutterman)