Lack of professionals hinders Russia's economic modernization
Modernization, which primarily entails the establishment of new enterprises and technological breakthroughs, cannot be implemented without professionals.
When President Dmitry Medvedev set out Russia's modernization plans in his 2009 State of the Nation address, he outlined five development priorities: medical technology, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals; energy efficiency and the rational use of resources; nuclear power generation; space technology and telecommunications; and strategic and information technology.
In order to achieve this, the government's first priority should therefore be to create more budget-financed jobs in these sectors and train more specialists, as well as expanding specialist training for analysts who will assess the political, social and environmental consequences of the various organizational, technological and production decisions taken in these spheres.
At the same time, the government must, if not increase, then at least maintain budget allocations for training academic specialists in important longer-term, non-productive cultural sectors, such as people specializing in languages and the arts, as well as high-quality teachers. To ensure these specialists receive proper training, the government should at least increase teachers' salaries to Soviet-era levels, thus enhancing the prestige of teaching and making it a more attractive career.
Despite this, the State Council recently announced a different strategy at its meeting on education. Since there are currently too many specialists with a higher education in the country, the focus should be shifted to vocational training at colleges, it said.
It is true that the country lacks skilled workers, technicians and other such specialists, and that this lack hinders economic modernization. But there is also a shortage of engineers, production supervisors and design engineers.
If we agree that Russia has more than enough professionals with a higher education, then we must admit that we don't need to train more specialists to work in innovative technology, space exploration, medicine and nuclear technology.
But the country is unlikely to benefit from going ahead with this approach to modernization and innovation.
Moscow residents protest mosque construction
Moscow residents have taken their protests over the construction of a mosque to the prefecture. Officials say they have not yet received the letter, signed by more than 1,800 people, but assure them that no mosque will be built until public hearings have been held.
Mikhail Butrimov leads the My Courtyard movement, which collected the signatures. He said 1,834 people signed the petition, which ran to 195 pages. The letter states that local residents are protesting against the construction of a mosque. "But it has nothing to do with a dislike for or fear of strangers or Muslims," Butrimov stressed.
In 2006, the prefecture received a request to allow the construction of an Orthodox church on a vacant plot of land. But the request was denied. The reason given, Butrimov said, was that there were too many utilities, such as gas pipelines, running underground on that plot of land between Volzhsky Boulevard and Saratovskaya Street. "I do not know for sure how residents would respond if an Orthodox church were to be built on that site. People turned to us after they learned of the decision to build a mosque. But I would like to say that the chapel concerned was planned on a plot of 50 square meters, while the mosque requires 0.4 hectares, or many times more. Such decisions usually provoke a degree of discontent and dissatisfaction," he added.
Anton Paleyev, chairman of the Commission for Public Associations and Religious Organizations, said the Orthodox community had submitted an application for the construction of a chapel but it was declined. As regards the building of a mosque or any other place of worship, he said, two rules have existed in Russia for 300 years, under which such a construction should be agreed with a local religious organization and, second, that it is approved by local residents.
"Those wishing to initiate construction should hold a public discussion," Paleyev believes, "and canvas the opinions of residents. If they protest, there is no way to insist that the construction goes ahead against their wishes."
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the synodal division for relations between the church and society, said that the practice of building Orthodox churches in predominantly Islamic or Buddhist countries shows that conflict is easily avoided if the site selected for construction, the church's size and its architectural style are agreed with all the parties concerned, including locals.
Customs Union may provoke flow of Chinese fakes into Russia
Analysts at Russia's Higher School of Economics have estimated the proportion of counterfeit goods on the Russian market and evaluated the threat posed to legitimate producers arising from the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The survey, ordered by the nonprofit partnership RusBrand, an association of branded goods manufacturers, canvassed representatives of companies that are members of the association, law-enforcement bodies, government agencies and lawyers involved in intellectual property protection in May and June 2010.
Counterfeit goods accounted for 6% Russia's retail turnover last year, with a total worth of 910 billion rubles (around $30 billion), and 24% of turnover in the nine product groups surveyed (alcohol, clothes and footwear, cosmetics, etc.) Alcohol, clothes and footwear were the most affected segments with more than 30% of products manufactured illegally.
Inexpensive but well-advertised brands of tea, coffee and household chemicals are also likely targets for counterfeiters, a source in a brand-owner company told the pollsters. Premium class goods tend to be copied, with replicas imitating specific features of the branded product; cheap products are usually simply faked.
There could be a surge in the market share of counterfeit goods in the near future due to the newly established Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, respondents suggest. They are especially concerned over the planned removal of customs checkpoints from Russia's border with Kazakhstan from July 1, 2011, fearing that Russia could be flooded with Chinese fakes smuggled into Kazakhstan across the poorly guarded Kyrgyz border. Currently most of these illegal imports remain in Kazakhstan.
"This change will lay open Russia to all the counterfeit goods that are smuggled into Kazakhstan," said Arai Balayan, security chief at Unilever Russia and CIS.
"We are monitoring the situation on the Russia-Kazakhstan border, trying to evaluate the risks," added Yulia Mayorova from P&G.
It is hard to tell at the moment how much of an increase there will be in the proportion of fakes in each group of goods, said Alexei Popovichev, executive director of RusBrand. However, given that most consumers are these days looking for cheaper goods, there is certainly a demand for fakes that could create a threat for legal brand-owners.
Kazakhstan's external border is poorly protected, because local customs officers are used to clearing most cargos for transit across the country and are not trained to conduct thorough checks, a Federal Customs service source said, sharing the companies' concerns. Russia could be flooded with counterfeit goods from Kazakhstan's trade partners, primarily India and China.
Ukrainian military caught red-handed
The Ukrainian army has been caught up in a major scandal now having international reverberations. The command of the Ukrainian peacekeeping force in Kosovo has for years been engaged in smuggling fuel and faking official UN Kosovo Force (KFOR) documents.
This bombshell went off when almost all the Albanian and Kosovo media, citing the force's command, reported that peacekeepers had been smuggling fuel, evading taxes and abusing economic and customs privileges granted to UN troops. At the same time, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) officially confirmed that it had searched the premises of selected companies in Kosovo reportedly collaborating with these smugglers and that five Kosovo Albanians had been arrested in connection with this case. Initially, neither the KFOR command, nor EULEX spokespeople named the peacekeepers' country of origin. But literally the next day the entire Balkan media, quoting their sources, pointed to the Ukrainian and French contingents, with the Ukrainians apparently ruling the roost in these shady dealings.
According to journalists, Ukrainian peacekeepers, who number about 100 in Kosovo, would purchase cheap fuel in Bulgaria, get it through customs into Kosovo where they would resell it to local accomplices. No goods meant for KFOR troops are subject to customs duties, and all it takes is an official form to get past customs. Incidentally, forging these forms was another part of these Ukrainian peacekeepers' dodgy business portfolio - selling them at 2,000 euros a piece. Lastly, access to KFOR forms and official seals also helped the Ukrainians purchase fuel on the cheap in Kosovo itself, at a French military base. Remarkably enough, the French had turned a blind eye to the Ukrainian troops' strange behavior: they required almost as much fuel as the rest of the contingent put together. Kosovo's customs officers, however, did notice it, and addressed their concerns to the KFOR command.
Investigators documented almost a hundred instances of crime. Estimates vary, but it is believed that Ukrainian peacekeepers profited to the tune of anywhere between 1.5 to several tens of millions of euros.
Officials in Kiev are not keen to comment on these developments. The Defense Ministry claims that a letter sent by the KFOR command was not ignored, and that the military investigators have done their job.
Russian nuclear power engineering still among the best
Last week, Russia's leading equipment-and-machinery manufacturer Izhorskiye Zavody (Izhora Plants) in Kolpino near St. Petersburg completed the so-called control assembly of an 1,150-mWt VVER-1200 water-cooled and water-moderated reactor body. The reactor can be shipped to the customer after minor adjustments.
This news, which would have made splash headlines in Soviet times, sounds particularly sensational today because Russia has never assembled such a high-capacity reactor before.
Moreover, this is the first reactor body to be manufactured for the Russian market since the late 1980s. Of the 60 VVER reactors assembled by Izhora, only 15 operate in Russia.
Although some reactors have depleted their service life and have been decommissioned, many still continue to operate abroad.
Twenty-five years ago, Izhora shipped its last VVER-1000 reactor for the third unit of Russia's Balakovo nuclear power plant in the Volga Federal District. The reactor was commissioned in late 1988. About 20 years ago, the last Soviet-made reactor was also shipped there from Atommash, a leading manufacturer of equipment for power, gas, oil and petrochemical industries based in Volgodonsk, southern Russia.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Izhora delivered several more reactors to Ukrainian nuclear power plants. However, reactor orders ground to a halt after many customers renounced nuclear-energy projects due to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Atommash, the pride of the entire Soviet Union, was privatized and ransacked. Although the same fate probably awaited Izhora Plants, the Russian nuclear power-engineering sector was saved from complete destruction by the decision of Iran, China and India to acquire five reactors stage by stage.
In October 2006, the government passed the federal targeted program stipulating the development of the national power-engineering sector in 2007-2010 and until 2015. The program envisioned a nuclear renaissance and called for building 10 nuclear power units in the next nine years.
An entirely new reactor has now been developed under a 2007 contract. The VVER-1200 project was based on the evolution of Soviet-era water-cooled and water-moderated reactors.
Since the early 1960s, rated capacity has increased almost six-fold, that is, from 210 to 1,150 MW, while the body diameter remains almost the same. Reactor service life has been extended from 50 to 60 years. Special radiation-resistant materials had to be developed for this purpose.
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MOSCOW, September 24 (RIA Novosti)