Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Russia's Human Capital Challenges and Potential for International Collaboration

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

Russia's Human Capital Challenges and Potential for International Collaboration

Article excerpt

On July 6, 2009, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev signed an agreement creating a US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC). The early Obama years witnessed substantial momentum and political will, bolstered by the US-Russian "reset," for international partnership with Russia along a broad array of issue areas. Activities linking governmental and nongovernmental players on both sides flourished under the BPC umbrella, including 20 substantive government-to-government working groups and three civil society summits (two of which were held in tandem with annual presidential summits in Moscow and Washington). (1)

Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency has produced remarkable upheaval in the US-Russia political climate and in the context within which Russian organizations partnering with Western colleagues live and work. A series of increasingly draconian laws governing the activities of Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)--including the requirement to register as foreign agents if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in political activity--has prompted many Russians to observe that they live in a country different from even a few months ago. The Russian parliament has expanded the definition of espionage and treason to include the rendering of assistance to a foreign organization in a manner that is "directed against the security of the Russian Federation," a definition so flexible and expansive that it could encompass a wide spectrum of contacts between Russian citizens and their international colleagues. In September 2012, the Russian foreign ministry categorically evicted the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from the premises, claiming that USAID-funded activities amounted to intolerable political provocation on Russian soil.

Against this backdrop, how should we be thinking about the near- and medium-term possibilities for international collaboration with Russia on decidedly nonpolitical issues, such as those related to human capital? Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has expressed a willingness to replace the US-Russia reset with "upgrade," specifically citing health and social protection as two areas in which the countries could fruitfully expand collaboration. (2) Health and child protection are explicitly exempt from the foreign agents law, and it is clear the Russian government places increasingly high value on policies and actions that augment Russia's stockpile of human capital, an asset class that has suffered great insult during the two decades of the post-Soviet period. Demographic, health, and education challenges pose a threat to Russia's future economic and human development. Whether Russia can build and sustain an attractive investment and business environment will influence, and be influenced by, the degree to which Russia can boast a critical mass of healthy, productive workers and professionals able to navigate the 21st-century global marketplace. In Medvedev's words, "our future must be shaped not by raw materials, but by our intellect, our strength, dignity, and enterprise." (3)

This essay is based on interviews over the past two years with a variety of subject-matter experts in Russia and on extensive background conversations with US and European professionals currently working with Russian colleagues in these areas. It explores the parameters of international partnership with Russia in areas involving human capital.

Is there still a compelling logic driving such international collaboration with Russia, given its increasingly hostile political climate? Do Russia's own challenges affect its potential contribution to international collaboration? Is it possible, through collaboration, to help Russia address its human capital crisis? If so, what are the specific types of projects and programs that make sense? Are there Russian colleagues willing and able to partner? How could we construct politically viable partnerships that move beyond the outdated (and perhaps never appropriate) US-Russia assistance paradigm of the 1990s? …

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