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Kremlin Hosts U.S. Innovation Team

Actor Ashton Kutcher and his wife, actress Demi Moore, attending a special screening of "Happy Tears" at the New York Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. Evan Agostini

A U.S. delegation of White House officials, technology executives and social media enthusiasts arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for a weeklong visit with their Russian counterparts to discuss innovation.

Formally, the meetings are an extension of the Bilateral Presidential Commission, created by the Kremlin and the White House in July. The “Innovation Delegation” — including the heads of Internet powerhouses Twitter and eBay — is here to speak with government, corporate and civic leaders about social media and civic issues, said a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“That’s what this group is all about — using social media for the public good,” said Jonathan Korach, deputy press attache at the embassy.

But the high-power group arrives just as Russian officials are revving up efforts to bring in foreign investment, technology and brainpower.

No less a figure than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has taken over the government’s commission on modernization, Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff and a longtime advocate of modernizing the economy, said in an interview to Vedomosti published Tuesday.

Additionally, President Dmitry Medvedev hosted a meeting in Tomsk last week with some of Russia’s top business leaders, whom he called on to invest in new technology.

The 13-member U.S. delegation met top Kremlin officials including Surkov on Wednesday and was slated for a host of meetings throughout the coming week.

Communications and Press Minister Igor Shchyogolev will meet the group Thursday, along with Yandex chief executive Arkady Volozh and Valery Zubakha, head of the Electronic Government project at state telecoms operator Rostelecom, ministry spokeswoman Yelena Lashkina said.

Korach, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, said the delegation would also meet officials from the Education and Science Ministry and the Health and Social Development Ministry.

Delegation member Jason Liebman, the chief executive of how-to video company Howcast Media, wrote on his Twitter page Wednesday evening that he was “just leaving kremlin after a great two hour brainstorm with vladislav surkov and arkady dvorkovich.”

In his interview with Vedomosti, Surkov made waves with his statement that “consolidated power is the instrument of modernization.” Dvorkovich is Medvedev’s top economic aide and another prominent modernization advocate in the Kremlin.

The visit is being spearheaded by Jared Cohen, a technology whiz with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policy planning staff, and Howard Solomon, the Russia director for the National Security Council.

Executives in the group include Jack Dorsey, founder of the microblogging web site Twitter; Padmasree Warrior, chief technology officer at networking giant Cisco Systems; and John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, whose arrival coincided with a Kommersant report that the Internet auction site was launching a Russian-language version.

The delegation also includes officials from Mozilla, EDventure, the Social Gaming Network and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Another delegation member — the world’s most-followed Twitter user, Ashton Kutcher — asked his 4.5 million fans what Russian phases he should know for the trip.

One user suggested the Russian Internet meme “Preved Medved,” which is based on a picture of a bear interrupting a love-making couple in the wilderness.

The phase, a distorted version of “Hello Bear,” has enjoined added success since the tech-savvy Medvedev — who has his own video blog — took office in 2008.

The U.S. delegation is scheduled to fly to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk on Thursday night, said Yevgeny Savin, director of the Unova.ru, an innovation news web site, who is familiar with the group’s itinerary.

The Novosibirsk leg will probably to include meetings with Kendrick White, general director of venture investment firm Marchmont Capital Partners, which is based in Nizhny Novgorod. White told The Moscow Times that he planned to tell the delegation that “there is tremendous technology opportunity here, but there’s very little smart money.”

He will also recommend that Russia develop a number of “innovation clusters,” such as his adopted town of Nizhny Novgorod.

The idea has long been kicked around in the government, but previous efforts have had little success. Medvedev disbanded the Federal Agency for Special Economic Zones in October, just three years after its creation.

But the Kremlin is planning to create a new research and development center, which it has dubbed the Russian Silicon Valley.

During his meeting with business leaders last week, Medvedev said it would be a “city of the future, which must become the largest test site of the new economic policy.” Surkov said in his interview that it would need to attract the best of the best, like Soviet-era scientific centers.

State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the Duma’s Information Policy Committee, said on his blog that the world’s “IT gurus” would meet with Novosibirsk regional officials, stop by an advanced secondary school and spend an evening at the city’s drama theater.

They also will get together with young innovation companies based in a research center outside the city, including the Siberian Center for Pharmacology and Biotechnology, Uniskam, Alekta and Data East, Ponomaryov said. They will also hold a round table with the regional entrepreneurs.

Unova’s Savin said the U.S. officials and business leaders would return to Moscow on Sunday for meetings with Russian businesspeople and social-networking web sites.

Savin said he was organizing a round table discussion Monday at the request of the delegation, with the session to be dedicated to venture funding.

Russian Venture Company director Igor Agamirzyan will take part with representatives of web projects such as Actio.tv, Iii.ru, Tutu.ru and Kupivip.ru, Savin said.

“These kind of visits are not for immediate goals,” Savin said. Business executives “will make their own judgments and will build their Russia-related business based on what they saw.”

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