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Russia Backs Off Cold War-Style Rules

9 August 2001 7:00 pm
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Never mind. The Russian Academy of Sciences rescinded a controversial directive.

MOSCOW--The Russian Academy of Sciences has quietly rescinded a controversial directive requiring its 55,000 researchers to report their foreign contacts to the RAS governing presidium. The rule, ostensibly to protect Russian intellectual property, has been replaced by one that simply seeks to help institute directors keep tabs on their more Western-oriented researchers. Watchdogs say that the new rule should calm the fears of scientists who saw a return to Soviet-style authoritarianism.

The existence of the directive, stamped "for internal use only," was first divulged in May by a human rights campaigner. The measure would have required researchers at the 357 RAS institutes to file reports on all international grant applications, articles sent for publication abroad, travel to international conferences, and foreign colleagues visiting Russian labs. The requirements prompted some top scientists to speculate that the directive was influenced heavily by the KGB's successor agency, the Federal Security Service (ScienceNOW, 5 June).

In June, a presidium official told RAS institute chiefs at a closed meeting that the directive would be scrapped. That decision was made public last month, as most researchers were headed to their summer dachas. A notice in the academy's weekly newsletter, Poisk, revealed that the internal directive has been superseded by a seemingly benign measure requiring scientists to inform superiors in writing about their foreign activities. The new rule eliminates hot-button language in the original directive, such as a call for Soviet-style "specialist departments" to vet international agreements and place new restrictions on information exchange with foreign countries.

Although the revision may end the controversy, some observers are discouraged by how few scientists bothered to complain about the original directive. Says microbiologist Garry Abelev of the RAS Center for Oncology in Moscow, "I expected that many more people would have protested."

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The Russian Academy of Sciences (in Russian)

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