Russia to reduce dependence on Western technology due to state security concerns

News by Eugene Gerden

Fears of western technology sending information to intelligence services is encouraging Russia to consider banning hi-tech imports, but concerns include WTO fines - and ability to source local alternatives.

 Russia plans to reduce its dependence from Western hardware devices and software over the next few years, according to Sergey Chemezov, head of Rostec, Russia's state corporation, which specialises in the development, production and export of hi-tech industrial products for civil and defence sectors.

Chemezov, one of Russia's leading businessmen, reportedly affiliated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, says that the use of foreign software and devices is also associated with a high risk of personal data being stolen.

In the case of ‘gadgets', Chemezov says that the volume of imports has significantly increased in recent years, with the majority of imports coming from Western countries. He also said that, as part of Russian government plans, orders are being placed with leading domestic companies in the field of electronics and software for the design of devices of domestic origin that could partially replace their Western analogues.

However, an official spokesman of Denis Manturov, Russia's Minister of Industry and Trade, says that the Russian government will probably reject the introduction of any artificial barriers on the imports of Western devices into the country, as such measures would be contrary to WTO rules and may result in huge fines for Russia.

Nonetheless, the possibility remains that the Russian government may introduce a ban on the use of foreign devices by senior state officials and members of the Russian Parliament, and this option may be considered later this year.

Ruslan Gattarov, a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament and one of the initiators of the potential ban, comments:  “There are allegations by various experts that information contained on some Western smartphones could be available to their manufacturers, who can then  transmit this information to intelligence agencies in their home countries. In addition, this information can be stolen by foreign commercial companies for illegal gain.”

Introduction of potential restrictions has already been criticised by some leading Russian IT security analysts. Andrei Prozorov, a leading expert at Infowatch, one of Russia's leading IT security  companies, said that the widespread ban on the use of Western technology would not be effective and would result an outflow of high-tech information technologies from Russia.

Prozorov said that the IOS operating system is currently considered one of the safest and the introduction of a ban on its further use in Russia would be senseless.

Some leading Russian vendors and IT companies have suggested that implementation of these goals would cause serious problems as the majority of Russian electronics products and devices are 90 percent dependent on foreign components.  

Chemezov's statements were made during the recent conference "IT technology in the service of the military-industrial complex", held in Tatarstan, one of Russia's most economically developed regions.

They echo plans raised last November as Russia considers how to respond to revelations of western spying capabilities via technology.

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