Chrystia Freeland is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are her own.
The Russians are coming. So far, the invaders are both welcome and unexpected — these aren’t the Cold War comrades who aspired to geopolitical domination or the first wave of oligarchs with their treasure chest of natural resources. These Russians propose to conquer the world’s new frontier — the Internet — and they are every bit as cocky as their forebears.
Russia’s arrival as a would-be technology superpower was announced this week when Yandex, a Russian Internet search company, made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the biggest U.S. Internet listing since Google went public in 2004.
With characteristic Russian bravado, Ilya Segalovich, the company’s chief technology officer, told my colleagues Alina Selyukh and Megan Davies that Yandex was superior to the behemoth Google: “Google is a great company, but we are better.” Yandex is “very focused on what we are doing, and the focus is technology and search.”
If you think of Russia either as the land of KGB-style repression or that of yacht-owning, supermodel-dating oil-rich oligarchs, this claim to technological prowess will be surprising. But ever since imperial Russia’s scientific modernization campaign, Russians have prided themselves on their mathematical and engineering skills — remember Sputnik.
For Yandex’s chief executive, Arkady Volozh, that human capital gives Russia the potential to emerge as a technology superpower. “Russia is famous for its resources,” he said. “But Russia also has a lot of talent.” He added, “Russia deserves to have a technology company of a global level.”