Russia to develop mobile operating system to rival Google and Apple

Russia's Ministry of Communications is to begin developing a Russian-made mobile operating system to rival Google's Android and Apple's iOS, both of which are US-made, Russian business channel RBC reported last night.

The Russian government has long encouraged Russian-made digital products and services in a bid to limit dependance on US and foreign technology. In April 2014, Russian parliamentarians proposed creating a Russian-only internet called Cheburashka, after parliament's lower house approved a controversial law earlier, which demanded that all tech companies which handle Russian internet traffic have to store user data on Russian soil for at least six months and open them for state inspection.

US-developed smartphones have come under fire from the Russian political establishment. The iPhone has been particularly criticised, with the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov saying that Russians who purchase the iPhone were "financing the US military industrial complex".

Russian president Putin, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and Kadyrov himself have all endorsed Moscow-based YotaPhone instead, although their mobiles still run on Google's android system.

According to RBC, the Russian government has now approached a Finnish mobile developer company Jolla, founded by ex-Nokia employees, to begin work on an independent mobile operating system for the Russian market.

Nikolay Nikiforov, Russia's communications minister met with Jolla representatives and members of the Russian IT industry last week to discuss a potential partnership between developers and Russian tech experts. Their aim is to create a new mobile operating system, using Jolla's open-source Linux-based Sailfish as a template. Antti Saarnio, CEO of Jolla, Grigoriy Bakunov from Russia's biggest search engine Yandex, and Alexey Smirnov from Alt Linux were all present at the meeting.

A representative for the Russian Ministry of Communications told RBC that Nikiforov's proposal would see a consortium of international IT experts from Brazil, India, China and South Africa join forces to work on the project once a week, leaving them to focus on their other work for the other remaining six days.

Insider sources told RBC the Russian government would prefer not using the current version of Sailfish but are instead designing a new product with the Jolla team.

It was not discussed in the meeting where the operating system would be installed once completed, however Smirnov told RBC that it may be installed in YotaPhones if the manufacturers agree to run the software on their devices. "However, manufacturers such as Apple are not interested," Smirnov said.

YotaPhone representatives have not addressed this speculation, neither confirming nor denying potential links between their product and the Sailfish project.

In 2011 the Russian government promised to fund local IT company PingWin to develop an alternative to Microsoft Windows, intended to be used on government computers. According to Smirnov the project did not eventually receive state financial backing.