Arkady Dvorkovich, the chief economic advisor to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, spoke Wednesday at Arrillaga Alumni Center about the need for economic modernization in the Russian Federation in the post-Cold War era.
Until the global financial crisis hit, “we were sleeping too much on our natural resources, oil and gas, without thinking too much about the future,” Dvorkovich said.
“Russia has potential to grow,” he said, “and the crisis came at the right time to the right place. The gap between Russia and the rest of the world will increase if we do not succeed right now.”
The address served as the keynote speech for the first annual conference of the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum (SURF), an event aimed at improving U.S.-Russia relations by focusing on youth.
“SURF is an initiative to bring together students from across the U.S. and Russia to explore the most pressing global challenges facing our respective countries,” said co-founder Sam Stone ’10.
Dvorkovich, who got a master’s degree at Duke University, now designs policies intended to instigate innovation and modernization in the Russian economy. He said the government has been successful in fostering a new mood in Russia that is conducive to innovation.
“What we are trying to do now is to gather as many partners as possible in our endeavors,” he added.
He highlighted efforts at creating innovation in the energy sector as a crucial aspect of his work. Oil and gas companies, including Gazprom, and steel-making corporations serve as some of the hotspots for collaboration in these endeavors.
“Russia is not the Soviet Union,” Dvorkovich proclaimed in an effort to debunk claims that Russia is reverting to authoritarian leadership.
“The president is focusing on feedback consistently coming from the people. He has his own blog and looks for feedback on the Internet everyday,” he said.
Though he did not dwell on the criticisms against the Russian government, he did highlight his belief that Russia is staying away from an authoritarian leadership.
“We are not going to create a closed society,” he said. “My hope is that any Russian can go abroad if he wants to go abroad.”
Discussing the corruption that often plagues public works funding, he said former President Vladimir Putin’s early efforts at minimizing the role of bureaucracy to combat corruption largely failed, and hopes that this new set of priorities will serve to further eradicate corruption.
“I was impressed with how candid he was with respect to the problems Russia is facing, particularly corruption,” said Mikael Bernstein ’12, who works as a deputy director for SURF.
“I expected him to be much more diplomatic and appreciated his honesty,” added co-founder Anda Gansca ’11. “He also came off as pretty optimistic with respect to Russia’s future.”
Dvorkovich said the increase in educational exchanges between the United States and Russia serves as a crucial factor in improving the two countries’ relationship. He is working with Stanford and M.I.T. to organize educational exchanges for post-doctoral students to further cultural dialogue.
“The future depends on young people, which is why education and this SURF project in particular is crucial,” he said.