To Russia with profit

October 17, 1997

PARTNERSHIPS in education and training are the key to Russia's economic recovery and development, British prime minister Tony Blair told scientific and business leaders in Moscow during his first official visit last week.

Mr Blair urged them to take advantage of the creativity and innovation evident in Britain's economy to aid their country.

He announced that Britain would put a further Pounds 5 million into the Know How Fund for Russia, which aids the country's transition to a market economy through education and training projects. The announcement followed a request from Russian president Boris Yeltsin in Paris earlier this year.

In a private meeting with six Russian graduates of a British Council-backed exchange programme, Mr Blair talked of the advantages of sharing expertise to aid mutual development.

The graduates of the Joint Industrial and Commercial Attachment Programme spent working attachments in British scientific, commercial and industrial companies.

Irina Svjato, deputy director for development at the State Research Centre for Applied Microbiology in Obolensk, one of the many scientific towns built around Moscow in the 1960s and 1970s, urged Mr Blair to expand scientific and technical cooperation.

Dr Svjato, a chemist, spent five months studying British defence conversion at the former top-secret chemical defence research station at Porton Down in Wiltshire.

Her institute, south of Moscow, used to employ 3,500 people on largely pure research but, like all Russian scientific establishments, it has lost most state funding and is developing commercial outlets.

Her experiences at Porton Down, where she studied business and commercial management at the Centre for Applied Microbiological Research, formerly part of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment, revolutionised the Obolensk institute.

"When I returned to Russia it was obvious that we had to divide our responsibilities between science and commercial applications. We introduced special contracts for scientists working on potentially profitable ideas and began developing production facilities."

Today the institute employs 1,300 people, but only a quarter are involved in purely scientific work. The rest are employed as technicians, engineers and managers at a small production plant making rapid diagnostic kits for microbiological infections such as Legionnaire's disease, meningitis, E-coli food poisoning, and other pharmaceutical products.

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