Fears over threat to autonomy of Russian academy

September 22, 2006

The Russian Academy of Sciences is facing one of its biggest challenges ever as President Vladimir Putin moves to bring it under stricter state control.

Under reforms approved by President Putin's Cabinet, the academy's elected president would require presidential approval before taking up his post and its charter would be subject to government approval.

The amendments to the Russian law on science will change its status to that of a "state academy" and have prompted fears by some of loss of independence for the institution, which was founded in 1724. The law could be ratified by parliament by the end of the month.

Academy president Yuri Osipov, 70, who is due to stand down before elections scheduled for December, has given a cautious welcome to the proposed changes, suggesting that presidential approval could lead to greater "credence" and help guarantee financing.

Professor Osipov, who won widespread support from academicians for his confident leadership during the 1990s, has also noted that the choice of president had been in effect subject to Politburo approval in Soviet times despite the academy's independent status.

He dismissed suggestions that the academy could be renamed the State Academy of Sciences, insisting the new status was purely a matter of legal terminology.

But elections to academy governing bodies may have to be postponed until parliament has voted on the reforms.

"If the Duma approves the amendments and the Russian President endorses the updated version of the law, one can talk about elections to (the academy),"

Professor Osipov said.

But others in the leadership are not so sanguine. Vice-president Gennady Mesyats is among those who fear the reforms will undermine autonomy and bring the academy under greater Kremlin pressure.

In an interview with state news agency ITAR-TASS, Professor Mesyats said:

"The Russian Academy of Sciences is a brand known and respected all over the world. It would be stupid to change anything."

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