While visiting Russia for the first time earlier this week, Facebook’s founder paid a visit to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev after meeting with local IT companies – including search giant Yandex – and technical teams.
A high tech aficionado, Medvedev – who served as Russia’s President for four years before becoming Prime Minister last March – personifies the Russian government’s effort to develop innovation in the country. So far, however, Medvedev has failed to update his work status on his own Facebook account, where he still appears as President.
“The conversation was very good,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Natalya Timakova as saying. “[Mr Zuckerberg and the Prime Minister] discussed Facebook’s potential presence in Russia not only as a social network, but as a company that works on cutting-edge products.”
Many interpreted Timakova’s statement as an indirect announcement that Facebook would consider opening an R&D center in Russia. But Facebook officially denied having such plans, the Russian information holding company RBC reported.
The Russian press has also written about the controversy surrounding Facebook’s reported intent to woo some of the country’s best programmers to leave Russia and come to California.
Zuckerberg himself fueled these allegations when he said that his attention toward Russian had been drawn by the fact that Facebook’s Hacker Cup earlier this year was won by a Russian programmer.
“Zuckerberg proposes immediate evacuation to America [to the Russian programmers he meets],” IBS Group’s President Anatoly Karachinsky wrote on his blog, the business daily Vedomosti reported. The Russian businessman compared Facebook’s attitude to Microsoft’s mass recruiting operation in Russia during the 1998 economic crisis.
Karachinsky called upon the Russian government to encourage Western companies to outsource IT operations in Russia instead of attracting Russian teams abroad.
According to a poll published last year, 55% of IT job seekers living in Moscow and St. Petersburg have contemplated leaving the country, while 22% have already taken some concrete steps in that direction. But only a small fraction of these intentions become reality, experts say.
“A sinking ship”
Facebook’s attempts to recruit Russian programmers were felt by a number of companies, from Russia’s leading social network Vkontakte – which appeared as a Facebook clone in 2006 before developing specific features for the Russian market – to a startup like Twistock, whose co-founder Nickolay Yegorov, 22, has been invited to an interview in Facebook’s California headquarters.
“Facebook demands that their employees move to California,” East-West Digital News learned from Twistock’s press service. “But accepting Facebook’s proposition and continuing to develop [a startup in Moscow] are hardly compatible things.”
Asked whether his employees were likely to move to Facebook, Vkontakte co-founder and CEO Pavel Durov answered: “We don’t have any fools. [Facebook] is a sinking ship,” Vedomosti reported.