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Washington Journal: U.S. Firm Selected To Fix Russia's Year 2000 Bug

Washington, 15 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. firm has been selected to provide technology for solving the Year 2000 computer problem in Russia.

The U.S. computer firm Relativity Technologies made the announcement in Washington Thursday during a press conference. The corporate executive officer of Relativity Technologies, Vivek Wadhwa, said his company and a private Russian corporation called Lanit Holding have signed an agreement which will permit Russia to use and develop special technology to provide Year 2000 solutions to both government agencies and business enterprises in Russia.

The Year 2000 computer problem, better known as the "millennium bug," will cause many computers to malfunction or fail because their chips cannot distinguish between centuries. The problem affects computers worldwide and some observers say it could cause the world economy to grind to a halt.

Wadhwa said that while initially the Russian government was slow to understand the global significance of the problem, now officials are putting a top priority on the issue. He said the agreement proves it is not to late to lessen the impact of the bug on Russia's economy.

Wadhwa explained: "There is good news and bad news in the Russian situation. The good news is that because society is much less dependent upon technology than in the West, the impact will be less severe.... (The bad news) is that the Russian government and Russian industry are highly automated."

Wadhwa said what concerns most experts at this point is that Russia currently uses old and outdated technology, most of which is not supported by the West. This makes it even more difficult to find enough knowledgeable people and software to fix many of the bugs, he said. Relativity's software, "RescueWare" is perfect for Russia, he says because the agreement allows Lanit to adapt the technology to support the unique variety of popular computer languages and platforms still in use within Russia.

Wadhwa said he could not definitively say how much the agreement is currently worth because the company expects profit to come slowly over time. But he said he estimates the agreement will eventually bring in millions of dollars for his company.

Wadhwa said Lanit is expected to sign multiple agreements with other agencies and companies as well as other countries in the region to help fix the problem. Moreover, all enhancements and adaptations made by Russian programmers to the technology, will be owned by Relativity, he added.

Andrey Terekhov, a board member for Lanit and chairman of the software engineering department at the University of St. Petersburg, said that Lanit had been recently certified by the Russian Committee for Communications and Information as Russia's first Year 2000 Readiness Center.

The Readiness Centers are a part of a Russian government plan to solve the Year 2000 program. These centers, manned by the most qualified and experienced computer systems integrators in Russia, are responsible for identifying highly adaptable and efficient technologies to repair the computer bug throughout the nation.

Terekhov said Lanit will use Relativity's software to focus on fixing "mission critical systems" in Russia such as telecommunications and transportation, with a special focus on the railway system. He added that preliminary talks are also underway with the Russian Central Bank, GasProm and Aeroflot. Terekhov said Lanit will likely not be dealing with Russia's defense or nuclear systems, since he said he was assured by officials that the most critical problems in this area have already been solved.

Lanit has already signed agreements with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to help fix the computer glitch, and Terekhov said he expects other countries of the former Soviet Union to quickly come aboard.

Terekhov said Russian government officials have estimated that it will take approximately 500 million dollars to solve the Year 2000 problem in Russia. He said officials will probably give additional funds for the repairs to "non-profit agencies" such as the Defense and Health Ministries, while ordering the "more profitable" sectors such as the Transportation and Energy Ministries to find the funds from what they already have in their budgets.

Terekhov acknowledged that Russia started the process "a little too late." He said only last May was a government order finally signed ordering the Ministry of Communication and Information to take responsibility for the problem.

Kent Hughes, Associate Deputy Secretary of Commerce, told reporters that the U.S. is trying hard to help the Russians fix the computer bug. He says last year the U.S. government, in conjunction with the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow and the Russian government, sponsored a day-long seminar in Moscow to raise awareness of the problem.

Hughes also said the U.S. is working with the IMF and other international financial institutions to provide much-needed funds for the repairs. He said approximately 12 million dollars has already been given to the Russians or specifically set aside for this purpose and more might be forthcoming.

He said the U.S. was particularly concerned about the command and control systems of Russian military equipment, and also nuclear and atomic controls. He added that the U.S. is providing assistance on how to identify what aspects of industry and government should be considered mission critical.