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While my previous blog posts have concentrated primarily on the US tech sector and the American startup scene, some recent news out of Russia – yes, Russia! – actually caught my eye. And no, I’m not talking about Vladimir Putin’s latest machinations in Ukraine or Russian cybercriminals; rather, it was news about Google, more specifically, news that Google has decided to transfer all of its Russian engineering team to new jobs outside Russia.

The reason for Google’s decision is a new Russian law that forces foreign companies such Google and Twitter to use servers located within the country when storing data from local users. According to Wired Magazine, if Google’s servers are in Russia, Google would be open to censorship and surveillance by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB. Google is not the only top tech company fleeing Moscow. Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook, recently fled Russia, just after he was forced to sell his stake in VKontakte to a state-owned company allied with the Kremlin.

Not surprisingly, the Russian government’s actions have had a chilling effect on the Moscow startup scene, with numerous Russian startups seeking to move to Europe or the US. Since economic success is increasingly based on innovations in software, data and other advanced technologies, Russia risks falling even further behind its Western rivals.

The sad thing is, Russia has an excellent science and technology educational system, and Russian software developers and engineers are world class. Just recently for example a Russian team won the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), a competition that included 122 teams from such universities as Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT, and others. Unfortunately for Russia, it’s top IT talent is more likely to be found in California then in Russia itself - just look at Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant to the US. 

So, whether you’re a hot startup looking to hire the best software engineers or a Fortune 500 company looking to upgrade you’re cybersecurity infrastructure, the Kremlin’s clampdown on internet freedom should make top Russian tech talent open to recruitment.

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