Russian president tweets, tours Silicon Valley

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent his first Twitter “tweet” message on Wednesday, then tried out video conferencing at Cisco Systems Inc as he made a quick tour of U.S. technology hub Silicon Valley, which he sees as a possible model for Russia to follow.

Russia’s economy is still stuck in its dependence on energy, sending natural gas to Europe and petroleum to the world. The economy boomed for a decade, raising Russian confidence, but a 7.9 percent economic contraction last year prompted Medvedev to look for new industry engines.

Russia’s previous leaders have tried the same for years, without changing its reputation for bureaucracy and corruption, and Medvedev’s own efforts to curb corruption have yet to bear fruit.

Medvedev’s eyebrows arched in surprise at the nearly life-size video conferencing gear at Internet equipment maker Cisco. In jeans and an open-collared shirt, Medvedev, 44, was dressed in Silicon Valley casual style, though Cisco executives in suits surrounded him.

“This is amazing,” Medvedev interjected in English.

Cisco Chief Executive John Chambers told Reuters after the tour that Medvedev was candid and Cisco was ready to take “good business risks”. Cisco will plow $1 billion over the next decade into Russia, including helping to build a kind of gated community for technology businesses outside of Moscow.

“He is remarkably open. I mean, business leaders go back and forth with him. It took me almost off guard,” Chambers said, calling Russia a country in transformation.

Another Cisco executive described the planned technology city where Cisco will build operations as a university-and-business town with its own police force and business rules that would “fence it off from some of the other issues” in Russia.


Medvedev began the day in San Francisco, where he sent his first microblog, or tweet, from the San Francisco offices of Twitter.

“Hello everyone, I’m at Twitter and sending my first message,” he wrote in Russian. The short messages broadcast over the Internet have become one of the biggest new technology hits.

U.S. relations with Russia have warmed under President Barack Obama, who has tried to “reset” ties after tenser times under the previous administration.

But the United States still insists Russia must focus on improving protection of intellectual property if it wants to join the World Trade Organization, a subject Obama and Medvedev are expected to discuss later in the week in Washington.

“The Russians are going to have to take the practical steps that any other prospective member of the WTO needs to take,” a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

“This isn’t a favor to us or to the WTO. It’s deeply in the self-interest of protecting the intellectual output, the innovation that comes out of Russian industry,” the official added.

Medvedev’s whirlwind itinerary also includes visits with Apple Inc chief Steve Jobs and Russian Web search firm Yandex, as well as delivering a speech at Stanford University.

Medvedev has described the Silicon Valley as a place to learn lessons about modernization.

“This experience is not definitive, but it is quite interesting,” local press quoted him as saying before he left Russia. He has said he wants to build a high-tech hub outside Moscow with tax breaks and special rules.

Critics want rules that everyone can play by, though. One tech star born in Russia that Medvedev won’t meet is Google Inc founder Sergey Brin, who once called Russia “Nigeria with snow.”

Russia rated a 2.2 out of 10 in a measure of business confidence in the 2009 Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International -- behind Nigeria. Its best score of the last decade, 2.8 in 2004, tied Russia with Tanzania and Mozambique.

Reporting by Jim Christie, Peter Henderson, Arshad Mohammed and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Mohammad Zargham