The Russian impact of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, still in asylum limbo in a Moscow airport, looks to have spread beyond damage to already frosty Russia-U.S. relations. Namely by adding another justification to a government push towards xenophobic industrial autonomy. On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin cited Snowden’s leaks as a major incentive to improve Russia’s own cyber security — presumably via a strategy more advanced than investing in typewriters — and reduce its dependence on foreign electronics. The next day, Rogozin further emphasized the importance of domestic industry by lashing out against Russian airline Aeroflot for signing a lucrative sponsorship deal with the U.K. soccer club Manchester United, which he claimed came at the expense of investment at home.
While the business angle of Rogozin’s assault boils down to dollars and sense — Aeroflot’s sponsorship package is worth a reported $6.4 million — his comments have a strong political flavor. Since 2012, Vladimir Putin has been cultivating an effectively nationalist domestic strategy. This has translated to tougher requirements for foreign NGOs, crackdowns on minority groups and political dissenters, and the revival of so-called Russian values (with a bit of Soviet-era patriotism added in for good measure).
The strategy extends to industry as well. Witness the fact that during Putin’s political recalibration this June, the president called for a “new era of industrialization.” And who better than Rogozin, the nationalist responsible for helping oversee interactions between Russia’s military and its industry and a longtime Kremlin mouthpiece, to implement it? Since his appointment as deputy prime minister in 2011, Rogozin has echoed Putin’s desire to minimize Russian reliance on foreign-made electronics and bolster aviation and defense — industries that have languished in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Since 1991, Russia has produced only one new passenger plane). Before Tuesday’s Aeroflot critique, Rogozin notably lambasted defense ministries for their failure to create a national electronic base amid continued reliance on foreign microchips, and for their purchases of French helicopter carriers in early 2013.
For now, Rogozin’s jabs may be bluster. But if past is prologue — the president’s anti-American rhetoric gave way to legislation banning adoptions by U.S. parents in 2013 — all this tough talk may herald stricter laws on Russian companies (or individuals) with interests abroad. Which would make Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of U.K. soccer team Chelsea, and Gazprom — the Kremlin has been seeking tighter control over the gas giant, which sponsors the UEFA Champions League in Europe — fair game.