Putin dream crushed as Russias AI and technology sector faces collapse after exodus

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Before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the country’s AI and IT sector relied heavily on Western technology and investment – but sanctions have put large IT projects on hold.

As many as 200,000 IT personnel are said to have left Russia since the day of the invasion, February 24, as workers flee deteriorating economic conditions.

Russian media CNews announced that there were almost 95,000 vacancies in its IT industry at the end of March after workers moved abroad. Since then, it has claimed the number of resumes is growing and vacancies are decreasing,

But, at the same time, the share of candidates ready to relocate has exceeded 40 percent, with as many as 45 percent of Russian programmers believed to favour moving to Europe, according to Russian recruitment specialist hh.ru.

Samuel Bendett, a research analyst and AI specialist, told Express.co.uk that Russia has historically relied on outside nations, including the West for investment in its IT sector.

Now it faces a sharp loss of talent and investment, as large foreign tech firms leave the country and sanctions cripple the economy. This is causing major headaches for the development of advanced hardware.

After it invaded Kyiv, Mr Bendett said Russia “recognised” it doesn’t have enough “highly educated people” in the sector or freedom of investment in the same way the US or Western Europe does.

He explained how there was “international cooperation” in the sector, which Russia relied heavily on before the war but that stopped “abruptly on February 24”, which caused “a lot of deficiencies to be exposed”.

At a recent Institute for Security and Technology talk, Rita Konaev, a security and technologies expert, said funding for AI is an area that is going to “suffer immensely”.

She added: “For AI and technology development, in general, being such an international, open, globalised field, it is really important to have open borders.”

Russia has a strong commitment to using AI in its military to help create lethal autonomous weapons and help with intelligence gathering but Mr Bendett believes Putin’s “dream” of leading AI has now been “thrown back by a few years, or up to a few decades”.

Yandex is one such high-tech Russian company that has faced severe consequences from sanctions and loss of global investment.

Ms Konaev said Yandex is “really taking a hit”, as it’s losing “international investors and relationships”, which is going to have significant consequences on what is “one of the major innovation hubs in Russia”.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin spoke recently about the need to attract young IT professionals into the industry and create the necessary conditions for them to work in Russia and not emigrate to outside nations.

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However, the Prime Minister doesn’t believe all IT workers will leave the country and the borders remain open for personnel to leave and work in other countries if they choose to do so.

But Mr Bendett told Express.co.uk: “This problem is recognised at the highest level. If the Russian Prime Minister is talking about IT brain drain, you know it’s a problem.”

Despite obvious issues faced by the sector from sanctions and loss of investment, it is not yet known how badly this will impact Russian civilians and the overall Russian economy in the long term.

The AI and defence specialist said some Russian IT workers who emigrated at the start of the war are, in fact, now starting to move back because of difficulties with emigration such as financial issues.

There is also some speculation that countries such as India, Israel, as well as China, will step up their investment and cooperation in Russia’s IT and AI industries.

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