War in Ukraine: Kremlin removes army computer scientists from country ahead of mass march Listen to this article

A Russian platoon during the 2019 Victory Day military parade in Red Square, Moscow.
A Russian platoon during the 2019 Victory Day military parade in Red Square, Moscow.Yuri Kochetkov

Thousands of computer engineers are leaving Russia because spare parts for its telecommunications network run out and could begin to fail as early as summer. This is the panorama of facing sanctions imposed by the West after the start of the war against Ukraine. In response, the Kremlin has offered programmers not to perform compulsory military service, got, and negotiates with the tech giants a range of aides to shut down brain drain. The next few months will be crucial for the industry.

Between 50,000 and 70,000 workers in the telecommunications sector left Russia in the first weeks of the war, and another 100,000 workers are expected to do so in April, when they have reorganized their bank accounts to make transfers abroad – Visa and Mastercard no longer operates in the country – and normalize flight prices, most of them blocked with Europe due to restrictions.

These estimates were presented to parliament on 22 March by Sergei Glupoterenko, president of the Russian Electronic Communications Association, who advocated the creation of a regional union and promotion of workers’ transfer to friendly countries until the situation calmed down. , “For example, for Armenia, Kazakhstan or China. Let’s agree with them, let’s propose some rules for their transfer”, he told the Information Technology Committee of the State Duma.

Natalia Kaspersky, founder of tech giant Infowatch and owner of Antivirus, which gives her the nickname, admitted at the same meeting that there has been a “mass flight” of engineers since the war began, though she believed that it is possible to persuade them to return. “It all depends not on the physical factor, but on the astral mindset of our experts. They’re young, they’re involved in many ways with the West, they work with Western software, and this breakdown of the system made them tremble,” said the businessman, who advocated propaganda and a public relations campaign to help them To get new opportunities. opening in the country.

This seems difficult to achieve, as can be seen on the near horizon, as predicted by the sector itself. Russia’s Union of Telecommunications Entrepreneurs and Industries has warned that its infrastructure will begin to fail by the summer, as companies only have replacements for their electronic equipment “for four or six months”, according to a report by which The pass had access to the daily Kommersant. ,

Not only did the West refuse to supply parts to Russian companies, but also to China. According to the organization, the world’s largest telecommunications and electronics equipment makers have suspended shipments of supplies, affecting two-thirds of the networks built with them, and Chinese firms have joined the boycott because of their equipment. Some components are American made or designed.

The sector, which pays a premium for parts that cannot be obtained due to high demand and a lack of foreign exchange, has asked the Kremlin for aid and tax cuts. Meanwhile, the government is also compensating for the loss of the workers. Military service is compulsory in Russia between the ages of 18 and 27, and now in early April, for the first time since the start of the war, a new enlistment of soldiers is due. The law prohibits sending someone who does military service unless they’ve signed an employment contract with the armed forces, so the exemptions given to young programmers from now on seems like a helping hand to companies that do not. Workers have been left behind in comparison to incentives. ,

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin this week signed a moratorium on “military” restrictions for people under the age of 27 who have completed higher education and have been working in technology companies for at least a year, as well as For unemployed specialists who have one year work experience and at least one course.

This exemption from compulsory military service will be applicable to more than 60 subjects in total. In addition to computer science, these include mathematics, cartography, electronics, robotics and aeronautics and naval engineering.

Furthermore, in his fight against sanctions, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced on Wednesday that the government would allow “parallel imports” without the permission of brand owners, while President Vladimir Putin signed a decree allowing state agencies to Significantly prevents the use of foreign software. infrastructure from the year 2025.

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For their part, some technology giants such as Yandex (the Russian alternative to Google), e-commerce companies Wildberry and Ozone (Amazon’s national version) and other firms have also claimed tax exemptions for the thousands of workers they hired as temporary workers. has been transferred. to allied countries. Many of these companies have already sent their employees to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia.

Brain drain is a headache for Russia. This week the Public News Service held a roundtable with several experts titled ‘How to stop the flight of telecommunications experts’. Evgeny Mitrofanov, head of the Department of Digital Technology at the Moscow State University of Humanities and Economics, warned: “Earlier, there were 100,000 left during a year, now there are more in a month.” In addition to volatility, the expert warned of a collapse of wages at the ruble exchange, and highlighted that after the pandemic, many worked remotely, “which has facilitated their relocation.”

Against this, the deputy chairman of the Duma Information Committee, Oleg Matveychev, said that the leak “related to a radical change in the way of life. If with Western corporations everything revolves around the Sun like planets, and suddenly they hear that there is a global conflict and Russia will be isolated, computer scientists panic. Many people will come back in a couple of months.”

In another debate on the same channel, demographer and contributor to several media outlets, Alexei Rakshas, ​​warned that both re-industrializing the country and substituting foreign products would be necessary. Software What hardware“It will be much more difficult than it was 30 years ago” for two reasons: there are fewer young people than before and will require “huge investments” and much longer-term planning.

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