20110420-igor_yurgensAsia-Europe Foundation hosted the seminar, “Russia in the Next Decade and Cooperation with Asia” by Dr Igor Yurgens on 28 April 2011.  Dr Yurgens, 58, is Chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development, Russia’s leading think-tank today. He is one of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s closest advisers on the economy.

Dr Yurgens shared  his insights on the current thinking of influential policy makers in Russia. He spoke for the “Medvedev Group,” which is focused  on moving Russia forward.

“Russians today crave stability…the nation is tired; it has lost its soul a little bit,” said Dr Yurgens.

ASEF Executive Director Ambassador Dominique Girard introduced Dr Yurgens at the seminar held at the ASEF Conference Room.

In his introductory remarks, Dr Yurgens explained  that President Medvedev wanted Russians to aspire to become a great nation again, to capture at least the 4th or 5th highest ranking place in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product.  Dr Yurgens believes that if policy makers succeed with intelligent reforms, the Russian economy can grow steadily, and Russia can achieve this goal by 2020.

Dr Yurgens highlighted the crucial significance of the upcoming 2012 Russian presidential elections.  In his view, if President Medvedev’s supporters lose  to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s group, Russia’s progress will be slowed down considerably and Russia will  likely stagnate. However, if Mr Medvedev’s group of reformers win, they can further forge a path for Russia to find “breakthrough” areas that act as Russia’s locomotive for growth.  He named possible breakthroughs in the field of nuclear technologies, including the building of nuclear plants, aerospace industries, pharmaceuticals and the  IT industry.

Dr Yurgens explained that all these initiatives were aimed at renewal of Russia through a systematic buildup of its human capital.  Russia should seek to learn from best practices from abroad.

President Medvedev announced recently that Russia would build a hi-tech hub near Moscow. The centre will develop five priority sectors -- energy, IT, telecommunications, bio-medical and atomic technologies – and will be built near Skolkovo, a new private-sector business school in the Moscow region.  It aims to give state backing to major companies to help them develop selected innovative products. The most promising of these will then to taken to fruition in this new "Silicon Valley".

Dr Yurgens maintained that Russia would then proceed with  “vertical modernisation” -  this can be a revolutionary development of stream-lining regulatory practices including cutting overly bureaucratic procedures and  ending corrupt practices.

Russia’s Cooperation with Asia

Russia is an “Eurasian country", noted  Dr Yugens, and hence “Asia is existentially important  for  Russia.” At the same time, Russia founded  its identity on the Judeo-Christian tradition and therefore identified with this cradle of civilisation just as Europe does. He noted that after Russia had been subjected to some 300 years of Mongol rule in its history, it had also developed long and deep relations with its Asian neighbours.

According to Dr Yurgens, there were currently three “mindsets” among Russian policy makers which could determine the pace of Russia’s future cooperation with Asia. The first concerned the leadership  role that Russia sees itself playing in Central Asia. Traditionally, this has been Russia’s backyard where Russia has played a successful leadership role in the military, energy and even State sector.

The second concerns how Russia should develop further its partnership in its relationship with Turkey, which is strategically located in West Asia.  The third involves Russia’s ties with North-east Asia,  where future cooperation projects could  include building new ports around the Russian coast and land bridges linking this part of Asia to Europe  for transport of oil and gas.  With climate change causing a melting of the Arctic sea, Russia anticipates opening a northern sea passage from North-east Asia to Europe.

Dr Yurgens noted that China, Japan and South Korea were all potential partners for Russia in this economic integration grand plan of modernisation.  ASEAN countries were also interested in this prospect. However Russia was not ready yet to make tangible proposals to countries more distant from its frontiers. When Russia takes over the Chairmanship of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), it will have the opportunity to put forward some of it proposals forward, said Dr Yurgens.

Questions & Answers

There was a lively interest among seminar participants. Questions touched on how President Medvedev could succeed in persuading the large majority of Russians to be motivated into a sense of renewal, how Russian entrepreneurs could have any impact when many were living abroad, and how Russia saw its contributions during its role as the Chair of APEC  in 2012.

About 40 participants took part in the seminar. They included members of the diplomatic corps, ASEF governors, representatives of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), INSEAD and  ESSEC business schools, the Singapore Management University, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), APEC Secretariat and businessmen.

The Q&A session was moderated by Ambassador Michael Tay, Executive Director of the Russia-Singapore Business Forum.