The Russian computer code crisis: a big leap backwards

The Russian computer code crisis: a big leap backwards

We explained not long ago how, by weaning them from crucial parts and components to keep them in modernity, Western sanctions were hitting hard, in Russia, an automobile industry forced to return to old Ladas or a sector of aeronautics unable to repair its Airbuses and Boeings.

As Bloomberg explains, behind these windows there is a whole other section of economic activity which is suffering terribly from the withdrawal of Western players from the market, such as SAP or Siemens for example, and on which many factories and industries, from oil extraction to food processing: IT.

Because by closing their activities on Russian territory, these expert companies in ultra-specialized codes, often applied to their own machines, are putting very large grains of sand in the country’s economic machine.

“The Russian equivalents in this sector are much worse, and the needs are high, explains analyst Elena Semenovskaya to Bloomberg. For now, the approach is to rely on piracy or outdated versions of the programs, which is a dead end and cannot be sustainable.”

Leaving Russia, the creators of these codes and these machines, logically very cautious in terms of intellectual property and copying, leave with all their knowledge: it is up to the locals to do with it, or rather to do without.

According to Bloomberg, the Russian steel industry has invested 59 billion dollars in its modernization over the past twenty years, in order to try to catch up with the delay taken by the Soviet Union on its Asian or Western competitors.

It was often by relying on the IT and technical expertise of western partners, such as Siemens, SMS Group or Danieli & C. Officine Meccaniche SpA, that it was able to get up to speed.

In certain high-precision industries, such as metal cutting, the slightest defect can render the entire production unusable. However, it is precisely the intrinsic quality and the regular updates of the software managing the machines that allow this precision.

Windows 93

Doing without Western expertise is therefore ultimately impossible. This is all the more impossible since, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the country has been hit by a massive exodus of its young computer and technology specialists, who could have helped to invent alternative solutions.

The problem is similar in many sectors – if not all. In the oil industry, Russia’s obligation to go and extract its black gold in places that are more and more difficult to access pushes it to rely on hyper-specialized software (analysis of seismic activity, layers geological conditions, the consequences of hydraulic fracturing, etc.) which it cannot do without any more than the machinery and equipment allowing these complex operations.

The same goes for the agri-food sector, whose chains also depend on very specialized software (“manufacturing execution systems”or MES) and which Russia, despite its modernization efforts in recent years, is not yet quite capable of creating without outside help.

We find the same problems outside the purely industrial sectors: the systems and operations of many companies in the tertiary sector, and even the Russian government, depend on software created by firms such as SAP or Microsoft, both of which withdrew in part or totally of the Russian market.

It is impossible to hold on in the medium and long term without modernizing these codes or, where necessary and in order to respect intellectual property issues, without replacing them with products developed 100% domestically: for the moment, Russia does not don’t know how to do it.

Developer of a 100% Russian version of Microsoft Office called MyOffice, Dmitry Komissarov explains to Bloomberg that its creation required 100 million dollars and a decade.

“It’s time to take stock of what’s missing, and start coding”, he explains to Bloomberg. In the meantime, Russia is taking a very big backward IT leap, and it could very quickly cost it dearly.