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Knowledge transfer between Russian and Western firms: Whose absorptive capacity is in question?

Snejina Michailova (The University of Auckland Business School, Auckland, New Zealand)
Irina Jormanainen (Aalto University School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 27 July 2011




This paper seeks to challenge some assumptions that have long existed in the international business and knowledge management literature about knowledge transfer between Western and Russian firms. It aims to open a debate among scholars and practitioners in these fields on issues related to knowledge transfer in this context.


The paper offers a critical analysis of issues regarding knowledge transfer and absorptive capacity in the context of business interactions between Russian and Western firms.


The paper argues that in the later stages of post‐Socialist transition it is no longer valid to attach rigidly the roles, respectively, of sole receiver to Russian and sole transmitter to Western firms. Further, the paper questions the view that problems in the knowledge transfer process are mainly attributable to the lack of absorptive capacity in Russian firms. As post‐Socialist transition has advanced, this is no longer the typical case. While Russian firms have taken the learning race seriously and have substantially enriched their knowledge stock, Western firms operating in the Russian market have primarily “learned by doing” and have not intentionally invested in improving their own absorptive capacity.

Research limitations/implications

The paper invites scholars to examine knowledge transfer between Russian and Western firms in a more nuanced manner that takes into account the changes evident in the latest stage of post‐socialist transition. It advocates against subscribing to well‐established assumptions that were valid in the beginning of post‐Socialist transition, but are not aligned with changed economic realities.

Practical implications

Western managers are advised to invest more effort into enhancing their understanding of the local knowledge and specific requirements and needs for knowledge transfer to local Russian firms. They should intentionally invest in enhancing their own internal absorptive capacity. Russian managers need to pay attention to the dynamics of the absorptive capacity‐learning feedback loop, as well as to the distinction between potential and realised absorptive capacity.


Unlike the mainstream literature that has examined knowledge transfer between Western and Russian firms, this paper provides a fairer, more balanced view, aligned with changed realities, of the issues associated with knowledge transfer between Russian and Western firms.



Michailova, S. and Jormanainen, I. (2011), "Knowledge transfer between Russian and Western firms: Whose absorptive capacity is in question?", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 250-270.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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