Russia, limited by its small-scale domestic demand, won’t be able to acquire digital sovereignty without attempting to occupy growing markets. Partners are needed who oppose the digital monopolization pursued by leaders from the U.S. Until our developers become firmly established and build out chains and ecosystems in new digital markets, our country will be under the dominating influence of the global monopolists.
Users won’t be immune from intimidation measures, such as cut offs from services as in Crimea in 2015. Manufacturers might experience shocks similar to the one felt by the Chinese mobile leader ZTE, punished by the digital hegemons for its cooperation with sanctioned Iran. It’s an especially pressing issue since our transoceanic and European partners are ever more tightly encircling our businesses with sanctions.
The main mobile platforms in the world, Apple and Google, are subject to the laws of the United States and can, at any time, shut down any application based on a decision from the U.S. authorities. It is these companies that today are dictating terms to the whole world. That includes us Russians, since almost two-thirds of Russians use Apple gadgets and Android-based smartphones to access the internet. Everything could be different if Russia managed to enter major international markets with its own technologies when they emerge.
The search engine Yandex.Ru debuted Sept. 23, 1997. The search engine Google started working on its domain google.com on Sept. 15, 1997. At the time, Russia wasn’t thinking about the Internet, whereas within the U.S. intelligence community, there were people looking beyond the horizon. They helped Google's search engine enter other countries’ markets while Yandex was just a local search engine. Today, the Russian company has ambitious plans to conquer other countries, but it’s already too late; the Americans have established secure footholds there. For example, according to our data, in Turkey, Yandex was able to get 6 percent of the market, while 90 percent of the population uses Google.
Today, the situation with mobile technologies is very advanced, but not hopeless. The topic of digital sovereignty is regularly raised at the BRICS Communications Ministers Meeting.* It’s necessary to “relocate” these countries to our technologies as quickly as possible and, where possible, replace American designs. We have the opportunity to share our know-how. And if these decisions become universal for developing markets, for example, the BRICS and Eurasian Economic Union countries, it would be a major victory for all the participating countries. After all, these software products are used by two-thirds of the world’s population. If we could promote our service providers, we’d be able to reverse the situation and escape from the monopolization of the market by American companies. For example, the Brazilian market totals 80 million people, but in the near term it will double. The potential of the Indian market can already be estimated at 1 billion consumers.
China’s policy of “digital isolationism” doesn’t suit Russia for a simple reason. In Russia, there are 73 million mobile internet users, while in China there are more than 10 times more, 753 million. There are as many users as there are citizens in Europe. With such large-scale domestic demand, China can afford not to let in American corporations or to permit them to work in the country on its terms. The Chinese market is enormous, and all local players are interested in it since it guarantees them a profit comparable to the global market. The Chinese search engine Baidoo and the messenger WeChat, despite their popularity, aren’t widely used beyond the borders of the domestic market. For Russian companies, isolation is a path bordering on mere survival. We need cooperation.
Within the BRICS and EAEU countries, it will be possible to work out unified rules of the game, the order of interaction, and responses to government appeals.** This would allow us, first of all, to create solutions free from the economic, political, informational and other risks that disrupt work. Secondly, it would already be possible today to begin to dictate our terms to American corporations, and in the event they refuse, they would be restricted in all BRICS and EAEU countries and deprived of a gigantic part of global consumption.
A good example of interstate cooperation by complex industries is the European aircraft monopoly Airbus. The company’s more than 50,000 employees are dispersed across France, Germany, Britain and Spain, where component suppliers carry out the manufacture and assembly of units. Thus, by consolidating local manufacturing, the European company has monopolized the region’s aircraft industry.
For the BRICS countries, the creation of a mobile operating system is an opportunity to secure their sovereignty and reverse the current situation. But it’s not enough, and it’s necessary to look beyond the horizon, which means seeing what technologies might replace or be added to mobile technology. The emergence of the iPhone was a technological paradigm shift — a transition took place from a smart device to a smart ecosystem. Now a shift toward smart things is underway. There a new paradigm is imminent. And on this issue, we need to begin to actively support new directions and help our developers access new markets like BRICS and the EAEU.
*Editor's note: BRICS is an acronym for the association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
**Editor's note: EAEU stands for the Eurasian Economic Union, a political and economic union of member states located primarily in northern Eurasia.