Schwarzenegger adds muscle to Medvedev's vision for Russian Silicon Valley

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in Russia this week along with executives from Google, Microsoft, and Oracle to give a boost to Russia's burgeoning tech sector.

Mikhail Klimentyev/ Presidential Press Service/ RIA Novosti/ AP
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (front l.) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (front r.) attend a round table for US and Russian investors and computer experts in the Skolkovo Moscow school of management in Moscow's suburb of Skolkovo, on Oct. 11.

On his last visit to Russia, Arnold Schwarzenegger promised he'd "be back."

So, not surprisingly, Russians – who are huge fans of the "Terminator" movies – swooned with delight when the soon-to-retire California governor arrived in Moscow for a three day visit Sunday and, in that steely voice, deadpanned: "I came back."

Upon his arrival, Mr. Schwarzenegger tweeted: "Just landed in Moscow. Beautiful day. Can’t wait to see Pres Medvedev."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a self-described computer geek who reportedly loved his tour of Silicon Valley last June – a visit that ended amid one of the worst US-Russia spy scandals in history – responded: "@Schwarzenegger, welcome to Moscow. Looking forward to meeting you and your delegation at @skolkovo."

By all accounts, Schwarzenegger's visit was a PR triumph, garnering more adoring Russian media attention than many official visits by heads of state (see Russia Today coverage here and here) as well as more Kremlin face time with Medvedev than most ever get.

Medvedev, who claims to be one of the Terminator's "biggest fans," took Schwarzenegger for a spin in a vintage Soviet Chaika limousine and jokingly offered him the job of Moscow mayor – vacated last month after Medvedev fired longtime incumbent Yury Luzhkov.

But the jury is still out on what Schwarzenegger, who arrived with executives of 28 US energy and IT firms in tow – including Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, and Bloom Energy – might have accomplished in a practical vein. The visit's main purpose is to check out Skolkovo, the Moscow-region high tech park that's being hyped by the Kremlin as Russia's version of Silicon Valley, and find profitable ways for Russian and US cutting-edge industries to cooperate.

Skolkovo is the pet project of Medvedev, who has made technological "modernization" the central theme of his presidency. Skolkovo's chief manager, Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, told journalists Monday that the center is set to receive about $6.6 billion in investments over the next 3 years, about half of which will be provided by the Kremlin.

Medvedev's plan is to use state guidance, preferences, and funding to jump-start technological development in Russia, in order to wean the country off its dependence on exports of natural resources, primarily oil and gas.

"President Medvedev is a great visionary. He had this idea to create a Silicon Valley in Skolkovo," Schwazenegger told journalists. "I love places where there is an extraordinary potential. It's almost like looking at a gold or diamond mine and saying 'all you have to do is go in there and get it,' " he added.

But actual investment in Skolkovo remains sparse, though the Kremlin says it has already closed deals with companies such as Siemens, Cisco Systems, and Nokia to participate in the project.

"Skolkovo is still a rather vague idea, something that looks more like window-dressing than a real going concern," says Nikolai Podorvanyuk, science editor of the online newspaper "A lot of taxpayer money has been invested, so far without any tangible result. I wish I was wrong about this, but we've seen so many grand projects, which ate up huge amounts of money, leaving no results behind."

But Schwarzenegger was much more optimistic, and he may add some energy to the project. On Tuesday, he left a standing-room-only crowd of Russian students at Moscow's Higher School of Economics totally charmed by offering unusually fulsome praise for what many foreign visitors see only as traffic-congested, smog-plagued, corruption-ridden city.

"I’ve traveled all around the world, I’ve seen all the big cities. Moscow is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve been to," Schwarzenegger said. "It looks beautiful in the daytime. It looks beautiful when the sun shines, it looks beautiful when it’s snowing. And at night it looks beautiful. I even rode the subway the other day to see what Moscow is like underneath the ground. I thought I might detect there’s something wrong – nothing was wrong with that."

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