- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev implored high-technology executives yesterday to hire Russian programmers or move some work there to help the struggling country.

"I believe we are here at the right time … to discuss high-technology cooperation," Mr. Gorbachev said through an interpreter.

Mr. Gorbachev, now 70, is using his reputation as the man who helped end the Cold War to bring Russia the benefits of personal wealth and economic diversity generated by high-technology companies.

He has been in the country since April 12 and also has spoken to high-tech executives in Denver. A group of about 100 Northern Virginia high-tech chief executives, lawyers and venture capitalists listened to Mr. Gorbachev's 30-minute speech at the Tower Club in Vienna, Va.

Mr. Gorbachev said U.S. companies could overcome the shortage of skilled workers here by shifting some operations to Russia. A report April 2 by the Arlington-based Information Technology Association of America indicates U.S. technology companies will be unable to fill 425,000 high-tech jobs this year because there are too few qualified workers.

Dmitri Simonenko already has done what Mr. Gorbachev asked technology executives to do yesterday.

Mr. Simonenko, a native of Siberia, made Chantilly, Va., the headquarters for Plesk Inc., his software development firm, but all the software programming occurs in his hometown of Novosibirsk, in Siberia. Mr. Simonenko employs 35 persons in Novosibirsk and just 10 in Northern Virginia.

"I know that the model Mr. Gorbachev is talking about will work. It is working now," Mr. Simonenko, 30, said after the former president's speech.

While U.S. firms are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, highly skilled Russian scientists are searching for work. The U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Cities Initiative is helping the Russian Federation find work for 30,000 Russian scientists who used to support the country's defense program and now are unemployed or underemployed.

A small but growing number of U.S. technology companies have opened operations in Russia. Large tech firms in Russia include Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems and Lucent Technologies Inc.

Their presence is due both to low-cost labor and an emerging market for technology.

Russia has yet to experience an Internet revolution, according to a December report by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The report cited a study by a Russian research firm that said no more than 5 percent of Russian adults use the Internet.

One sign that the market is growing: Sales of personal digital assistants in Russia grew 15 percent last year compared with 1999, according to the same Commerce Department study. The Russian market for Internet technologies is estimated at $450 million now and will reach $500 million by 2002, the Commerce Department estimated.

Before more companies are lured to the country, Russian politicians likely will have to strengthen enforcement of intellectual property laws to improve protections for software, Mr. Gorbachev said. The lack of enforcement has led to rampant software piracy in the country.

"It is very important to remove all the obstacles that American businessmen see in Russia," he said.

"It is a problem, but to be fair, that's a problem everywhere," a Commerce Department official said.

Americans also must revise their view of Russia as a nation of violent, uneducated people, said Winston Lindsley, president of International Technology Information Consultants Inc., an information technology company in Russia.

"I think it's incumbent upon Americans to support the process in Russia of capitalism, free markets and Democracy," Mr. Lindsley said.

Not only would that nurture the Russian economy, Mr. Gorbachev said, it would help improve U.S.-Russian relations, which he characterized as growing weaker in the past few years.

"I attach enormous importance on building a better and healthier relationship between the United States and Russia… . We've seen, particularly in the past few years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, we've seen that relationship dissipate, and that is very alarming," he said.

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