On October 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the “National Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the Period Until 2030.” The documents calls for “accelerated development of AI,” including an emphasis on “research, availability of information and computing resources for users” as well as improving “training in this area” (TASS, October 11). Although Russia is not presently considered a global leader in the realm of AI (see EDM, March 13), it does arguably possess a national base of knowledge and domestic expertise on which the government could draw on and achieve more impressive results.
Historically, the first major research into artificial intelligence was initiated in the Soviet Union in 1954 (under the roof of the Moscow State University) as an interdisciplinary initiative, assembling prominent Soviet physiologists, linguists, psychologists and mathematicians. In 1988, the Association of Artificial Intelligence (AAI) was inaugurated and brought together 300 Soviet researchers (Vuzlit.ru, accessed October 31). Nonetheless—similar to some other technological novelties of the time, including the Internet—the Soviet authorities failed to fully comprehend the future potential of AI, and both state interest and funding flagged. A similar trend continued after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Only in recent years has there been a visible shift in the Russian state’s approach to the issue. Assessing Moscow’s current policies in this domain, it is possible to ascertain three main areas where the development of AI (and related technologies) could serve the country’s strategic objectives.
First are domestic-civilian purposes, premised on expectations that the integration of AI technologies in various spheres of public life will result in much-needed socio-economic transformations. As noted earlier this year by Russia’s Minister for Economic Development Maksim Oreshkin, the integration of AI could result in a significant increases to labor productivity by 2030 (RIA Novosti, September 4). At the same time, German Gref, the CEO and chair of the executive board of Sberbank, has pointed to the visible potential Russia has in this realm. According to Gref, the integration of new economic or financial solutions on the basis of AI could potentially have a huge transformative effect “on the whole country [Russia]” (TASS, October 17).
During a recent conference hosted by the League for Assisting Defense Enterprises of Russia—an event that assembled a large number of both civilian and military experts—participants offered interesting assessments of the benefits associated with integrating AI in Russia’s public sphere. Notably, the deputy director of Ruselectronics (fully owned by the defense-contractor Rostec), Azret Bekkiev, highlighted that, “Achievements in the realm of AI will have a large influence on almost all markets, including security, manufacturing, energy, agriculture, education, medicine and others.” In turn, the director for AI issues at the Institute of Artificial Intelligence (at the Russian Academy of Science), Gennady Osipov, approached the issue from a different angle. When referring to the strategic importance of AI for Russia, he pointed to the link between non-military and military use of AI-related technologies, which he considers inherently essential. He also argued, “[O]ne may reasonably argue that a group of countries, a country or a coalition that wields the most powerful means of intellectual analysis of information could become the winner of any conflict even before its official eruption” (Soyuzmash.ru, August 13).
As such, the second important facet of AI research for Moscow is directly related to military objectives. Here, Russia’s main motivator appears to be keeping pace with the United States in terms of integrating AI into its Armed Forces. One recent article in Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer suggests that, by 2025, more than 30 percent of US land forces will consist of various robotics- and AI-based systems. The piece posits that, given the fact US war spending is (and will remain) far larger than Russia can afford, “we [Russia] need to create more effective and less expensive means to confront looming challenges. It is quite clear that a forerunner’s strategy [strategiya dogoniayushego] in this situation will result only in the existing gap [between Russia and the US] widening even more. Direct and asymmetric measures should be combined and used against our opponents, creating our own means of military-specific technologies […] we need to concentrate on the creation of domestic […] systems equipped with AI, [as well as] continue studies in the realm of optical and quantum computers. Special attention must be diverted to AI. Its development opens up unlimited prospects in perfecting the methods of military confrontation” (Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer, September 24).
Speaking about the military-related domain of AI, special attention should be paid to Russia’s ERA “technopolis,” inaugurated in June 25, 2018, and located in Anapa, Krasnodar Krai. Primarily, the defense-and-high-technology research-and-development facility focuses on “a complex of issues” that include finding solutions to “expedite the development and practical integration of most advanced technologies in the defense sector… [as well as] support [the country’s] most talented youth via special programs designed for the young scientist in the Russian Armed Forces” (TASS, October 11). At least at this level, the Russian defense-industrial complex seems to have successfully overcome one of its most damaging Soviet legacies. Mainly, the ERA (aside from serving military purposes per se) has purportedly become a platform for intra-ministerial collaboration and is now an embodiment of “business-army” interlinkages. Currently, 250 scientific, business- and defense-related enterprises have signed agreements and are actively cooperating with the ERA, already resulting in a broad spectrum of research activities conducted at the Anapa technopolis, which has doubled in size in the past year alone (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, October 11). As noted by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov (former deputy minister of defense), “[T]he ERA has become the leading [in Russia] platform for cooperation between consumers and producers of arms and weaponry, special, as well as dual-use technologies” (TASS, August 19).
Russia’s third domain of AI focus involves using this area of technological research to achieve various foreign policy objectives. Namely, Gazprom Neft and Saudi Aramco have concluded an agreement—during President Putin’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia (see EDM, October 23)—that inter alia envisages tightening cooperation in developing AI solutions for oil-sector research and exploration/extraction (TASS, October 14). Additionally, according to Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media (MinComSvyaz), the Russian and Saudi governments agreed to broaden wider technological collaboration on AI, mass communication, media and information outlets, as well as cyber security (TASS, October 16).
Similarly to Russia’s use of arms production and exports, artificial intelligence is now emerging as a tool for the Kremlin to secure strategic interests both at home and abroad.