Economic Statecraft
Import Substitution: Technological Sovereignty and the Cultivation of Russian Brands
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On September 16th, the Valdai Club hosted a discussion dedicated to the issues of import substitution in the context of anti-Russia sanctions. “Since February 2022, so-called export controls targeting Russia have reached a level that the world has not seen implemented, probably, for the last seventy years,” said Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, who moderated the discussion. “We predict that the process of imposing export and import restrictions will continue.” According to Timofeev, the best way to adapt to this process is import substitution.

Maxim Kolesnikov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, emphasised that the government has been working diligently on a high-priority plan to respond to the new challenges. Among these measures, he named concessional lending programmes, tax incentives, and direct financial support. “We can say that these and other measures helped to stabilise the situation and avoid the decline of the economy, which was predicted at the beginning of the year,” added the Deputy Minister. “It’s too early to say, but we believe the economy has adapted quickly to the new challenges.” He called the increase in technological sovereignty, which implies import substitution and a restoration of technological parity, a key area of the economy. Kolesnikov also pointed to the importance of experimental legal regimes, agreements concluded by the government with big business for the development of end-to-end technologies, as well as institutions for innovative development and “beacon projects” for technological development.

According to Dmitry Kolobov, Director of the Department for the Development of the Industry of Socially Significant Goods of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, all sectors of the economy must now answer three questions: what should we do in a full cycle, what will we continue to import, and what shall we do with foreign markets? He said that the ministry provides support to companies mainly in the spheres of logistics, working with finances, and rebuilding cooperation chains. He called support for advertising of Russian manufacturers on Russian television an important measure. “First of all, it is necessary to pursue import substitution in branding. By cultivating Russian brands, we stabilize the consumer market and grow our own champions,” Kolobov believes.

Aleksey Dzermant, Director of Northern Eurasia, the Belarusian Centre for the Study and Development of Continental Integration, noted that the Republic of Belarus faced sanctions that forced it to engage in import substitution even before the Russian Federation. He pointed to the successfully implemented Union programmes of deep integration, which provide for the convergence of technological regulations, approaches to transport, and logistics. He expressed interest in the idea of ​​a digital analogue of the Soviet State Planning Committee (Gosplan, the agency responsible for central economic planning in the USSR). This ‘Digital Gosplan’ would assemble information about the industrial capabilities of Russia, Belarus, and potentially other EAEU countries into a single, digital system. According to Dzermant, it is also important to study the experience of countries that have been under sanctions for a long time, particularly Iran and North Korea. In addition, the expert emphasized the importance of investment in R&D.